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Inalienable Possessions$

Annette Weiner

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780520076037

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520076037.001.0001

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Reconfiguring Exchange Theory: The Maori Hau

Reconfiguring Exchange Theory: The Maori Hau

(p.44) Chapter 2 Reconfiguring Exchange Theory: The Maori Hau
Inalienable Possessions

Annette B. Weiner

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter takes Marcel Mauss's The Gift and reanalyzes the most controversial theoretical text on “primitive” exchange and the Maori ethnography that provided Mauss with the answer to the problem of why a gift given elicits a return. Although Lévi-Strauss believes that Mauss's ethnographic entanglement in the Maori point of view limited his ability to develop a structural model of exchange, it is precisely the dense Maori ethnographic descriptions which reveal the priority that the Maori themselves accord inalienable possessions. Women's production of cloth, some of which becomes inalienable because it is imbued with mana, the procreative power that women acquire, is central to these priorities. The guardianship of inalienable possessions such as these transforms difference into rank.

Keywords:   Marcel Mauss, primitive exchange, Maori ethnography, gift

As much as Phaiakian men are expert beyond all others For driving a fast ship on the open sea, so their women Are skilled in weaving and dowered with wisdom bestowed by Athene., To be expert in beautiful work

Homer, The Odyssey

The works of women are symbolic. We sew., prick our fingers., dull our sight., Producing what? A pair of slippers., sir, To put on when you're weary—or a stool To stumble over and vex you … “curse that stool!”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

In Argonauts of the Western Pactfic Malinowski is painstakingly forthright about his dilemma over how to interpret Trobrianders kula behavior. In every chapter, he searches for behavioral analogies that a Western audience will understand then immediately undoes the point by reemphasizing the exoticness of kula exchanges. Looking back on his work more than half a century later, these particular conundrums stand out because his analogies with Western economics were remarkably sensitive even when his reversals were wide of the mark.1 Early on in Argonauts, Malinowski briefly muses over the (p.45) similarity between kula shells and the historical significance attributed to the crown jewels he once saw in Edinburgh Castle. He writes how suddenly he realized that “however ugly, useless, and … valueless an object may be, if it has figured in historical scenes and passed through the hands of historic persons, … [it is] therefore an unfailing vehicle of important sentimental associations.”2 Still he remains convinced that kula shells are “too well decorated and too clumsy for use.”3 Despite the intense emotions that surround the acquisition of kula shells that Malinowski himself reported, he believes there can be no question of political drama associated with these “long, thin red strings, and big, white, worn-out objects, clumsy to sight and greasy to touch”4 because they are not “convertible wealth” or “instruments of power.”5 Yet, at the end of Argonauts, he writes how exhilarating it is for a Trobriander to possess a kula shell, how one might be placed on a dying man “to inspire with life; and … to prepare for death.”6 Again and again Malinowski comments that kula shells are valued differently than Western wealth. Because they represent ideas about wealth and value that to the Trobrianders are emotionally so meaningful, he is certain that ethnographers will discover similar examples in other parts of the “primitive” world.7

Marcel Mauss took up this challenge by sifting through reports on “primitive” life and finding a common thread that linked these data to Malinowski's kula examples.8 As a result, anthropology's most famous and controversial text on reciprocity, Essai sur le don, was published in 1925, three years after Argonauts of the Western Pacific. The main initiative in Mauss's essay is to discover what Malinowski failed to find—the underlying motivation that makes one gift given elicit a return. Unlike Malinowski, Mauss recognizes the symbolic and political meanings in kula shells, taking us beyond Malinowski's attention to their “sentimental associations.” In turning to Polynesian sources, Mauss locates a text in which a Maori elder describes the concept of hau as the “vital essence” of life in human beings, in land, and in things. When an object embedded with the hau is given to others, the “spirit” of the thing given seeks to find its place of origin, thereby creating a return. This example provides Mauss with the “key to the whole problem,” enabling him to demonstrate more explicitly Durkheim's earlier point, that the intimate relation between persons and things is the energizing force making obligatory the acts of giving, receiving, and returning.

In Grime and Custom in Savage Society, in part a response to Essai sur le don, Malinowski rejects Mauss's conclusions that objects such as (p.46) kula shells are associated with symbolic power. He argues instead that the dictates of custom are the motivating force behind reciprocal returns. Since then many other critics have joined the controversy.9 Some claim Mauss overintellectualized the Maori text, mystifying the economic reality of reciprocity. Marshall Sahlins shows that the Maori han, like all gifts, represents nothing other than the material “yield” of the gift, that is, the gain received through the transaction of gift and countergifr.10 Lévi-Strauss goes even further, insisting that Mauss's phenomenological approach kept him from recognizing that the hau is merely the Maori point of view and could never illuminate the universal structure underlying the acts of giving and receiving.

Throughout these debates, no one observed that in a few instances Mauss used the word immeuble pointing out that not only Maori valuables and Trobriand kula shells, but Samoan fine mats and Northwest Coast coppers remained attached to their original owners even when they circulated among other people.11 In the opening pages of Essai sur le don) Mauss begins with an example of Samoan fine mats (ie toga). He labels them “maternal goods” because they are given in marriage by the women's side, and, like the Maori taonga (valuables), they are “more closely linked to the soil, the clan, the family, and the person,” in opposition to things meuble, such as food and crafted goods that lack these kinship connections.12

Here Mauss briefly suggests that an inequality exists between exchanges of Samoan fine mats and food. His intuition is unerring for in these exchanges, oloa is given for service and help whereas fine mats are always exchanged for each other. Since the name, rank, and historical trajectory of each fine mat has its own singular and absolute value, each exchange can only be understood in terms of the difference between one fine mat and another. The fine mat exchanges involve intricate strategies in which each one given elicits a return that either matches, exceeds, or is less than the original's value. Since all fine mats are ranked against each other and the most highly valued rarely circulate, the exchanges are as much about the identities of the particular fine mats that are hidden away as they are about the transactions of the moment. Politically, the challenge to exchange is a challenge to what is being kept out of the exchange. Although wide variation in local practices make the Samoan and the Maori examples each culturally distinct, the elementary principle of keeping-while-giving rather than the norm of reciprocity takes us to the heart of the problem Mauss evoked in his discussion of the Maori hau.

(p.47) Difference and Hierarchy

In surveying other parts of Polynesia, Mauss found that the Maori taonga provided the most important parallel with the meanings embedded in Samoan fine mats.

In Maori, Tahitian, Tongan and Mangarevan (Gambier), it [taonga] connotes everything that may properly be termed possessions, everything that makes one rich, powerful, and influential, and everything that can be exchanged, and used as an object for compensating others.… [They are] strongly linked to the person, the clan, and the earth.… They are the vehicle for its mana, its magical, religious, and spiritual force.13

In Polynesia, cognates of taonga most often refer to fine mats barkcloth, and cloaks, which, in most cases, are produced by women and exchanged by women and men as wealth at all major social and political events (see fig. 4).14 Women are by no means universally the producers of cloth, but their important roles in these activities are found worldwide as is the symbolism of human and cultural reproduction that is associated with cloth and its production.15 Yet theorists on Polynesian political hierarchy rarely consider cloth possessions as essential forms of material wealth.16 Are these objects ignored by anthropologists because women produce them or is there simply a disinterest in fibers as opposed to food? Like Malinowski, has our involvement in a world of commodities closed our minds to the symbolic power embedded in cloth? Have we neglected the complex relationships that link women's roles in human reproduction with cloth production because Western cultures traditionally invest such roles with negative values?

In Polynesia, many forms of cloth made by women are highly prized and often guarded as inalienable possessions so that each one takes on its own subjective identity. But keeping these possessions inalienable while giving others away in exchange develops into a demanding economic and political commitment. Yet if a person or a group is successful, the benefits outweigh the challenges. The enhancement of a person's or a group's social identity is dependent upon strategies of conserving such possessions, be they names, myths, sacred cloaks, or bones, that distinguish the difference between one person or group and another. Grand displays and expenditures give the illusion that everyone shares in a ruler's largess, as any medieval nobleman or a Trobriand chief knows full well, but the political impact of these events resides in what has been kept. Political hierarchy arises out of the successful (p.48) dual endeavors to preserve and expand one's social identity, not only through marriage and alliance, but by being bold and wealthy enough to capture someone else's inalienable possessions, embrace someone else's ancestors, magic, and power, and then, transfer some parts of these identities to the next generation. The processes of cultural reproduction involve the heroic ability to reproduce more of one's self or one's group through time by asserting difference while defining an historical past that looks unchanging. In varying degrees, we are all engaged in these heroic ventures.

The dimensions of this complexity are revealed by how politically compelling inalienable possessions are. The authenticity lodged in these possessions denies intergenerational difference whereas their ownership continually justifies difference in the present. Therefore, inalienable possessions are the material confirmations of these endeavors, controlled through the productive and reproductive exchange relations between women and men. Whatever the local cultural circumstances, constructing, guarding, altering, and expanding social identities into forms of rank and hierarchy are dependent upon the success of institutionalizing difference through exchanges that demonstrate one's ability to keep-while-giving. The ahistoric essentialism behind the traditional concept of the norm of reciprocity conceals the particular cultural configurations in and through which inalienable possessions are empowered to act as the source of difference and hierarchy.

With these principles in mind, I now turn to the Maori texts. There are three main threads that I follow. First; by pursuing Mauss's interest in the hau, I trace the way the hau is embedded in a special class of valuables called taonga that are ranked according to their historical and cosmological antecedents. Second, by reinterpreting classic Maori ethnographic texts on the semantic meanings and spatial and historical movements of taonga, I expose the economic and political significance of flax and feather cloaks that, historically, are the oldest kinds of taonga (see fig. 5). Third, since women are the producers of these cloaks, my ethnographic analysis of the hau and taonga brings women's production as well as human and cultural reproduction into prominence. The presence of cloaks corresponds to the universal unrivaled magnitude of cloth as a signifying medium for the strengths and limitations of social life. From swaddling an infant to wrapping a ruler, cloth delineates all levels of social relations, all supports for political alliances. Further, because of its variation in style and technical production, cloth has an almost unlimited potential as an emblematic marker of age, sex, status, rank, and group affiliation.17 As a repository of human labor, cloth can (p.49) convey complex meanings that symbolize the tying together of kin an political connections, humans to gods, the power of cosmology and history and, in the Maori case, the complex spiritual world of the hau. In this way, these three ethnographic threads converge to reveal the historical development of taonga and the need to reconfigure what we mean by reciprocity to account for inalienable possessions as the source of difference and hierarchy.

The Original Maori Text Reexamined

Among Robert Hertz's papers, Mauss found a reference to a Maori text that he felt illuminated the relationship between Samoan fine mats and the Maori taonga and was “the key to the problem.”18

I will speak to you about the hau.… The hau is not the wind that blows—not at all. Let us suppose that you possess a certain article (taonga) and that you give me this article. You give it to me without setting a price on it. We strike no bargain about it. Now, I give this article to a third person who, after a certain lapse of time, decides to give me something as repayment in return (utu). He makes a present to me of something (taonga). Now, this taonga that he gives me is the spirit (hau) of the taonga that I had received from you and that I had given to him. The taonga that I received for these taonga (which came from you) must be returned to you. It would not be fair (tika) on my part to keep these taonga for myself: whether they were desirable (rawe) or undesirable (kino). I must give them to you because they are a hau of the taonga that you gave me. If I kept this other taonga for myself, serous harm might befall me, even death. This is the nature of the hau, the hau of the personal property, the hau of the taonga, the hau of the forest. Kati ena (But enough on this subject).19

Tamati Ranapiri's Maori text is very clear: the hau was not to be found in all gifts, only in those classified as taonga.20 In all the later scholarly readings of the text, however, the enigmatic han dominates attention, totally eclipsing the significance of taonga, the cloaks that women weave.21

Women, Reproduction, and Mana

The oldest and most cherished taonga are cloaks that still today are regarded by the Maori as the “greatest treasures of the land.”22 Woven with complex techniques to produce spectacular patterns (p.50) from dyed flax or bundles of birds's feathers, these cloaks, as figure 6 shows, easily match the sophistication of other elaborate weaving technologies found worldwide. The complex symbolism associated with these cloaks refers specifically to women and human and cultural reproduction. Traditional Maori cloaks made from flax fibers are called kahu and the same term is used as a prefix for special cloaks, such as those made from birds' feathers and dogs' skins.23 But kahu also designates the membrane surrounding the fetus.24 The term wharekahu is the name for the special house in which Maori women give birth. Whakakahu refers to the person who cuts the umbilical cord.25 Another set of meanings refers to death and ancestors. Kahukahu is the germ of a human being, the spirit of the deceased ancestor, a stillborn infant,26 and the cloth used by women during menstruation.27 In traditional Maori thought, lesser gods and ancestors were believed to come from miscarriages and abortions.28 This latter belief, also found elsewhere in Polynesia, has puzzled scholars in large part because of the common analytical practice that assumes women and their activities are “profane” and “polluting” in opposition to the “sacred” domain of men who have access to mana.29

These symbolic meanings embedded in cloth that are associated with women and reproduction, however, cast light not only on the relationship between the hau and taonga but also on anthropology's longdebated controversy over the meaning of mana. In the last century, the missionary R. H. Codrington first described mana as a pan-Pacific magical force, bestowed by powerful ancestors and gods on certain people and their possessions.30 Since Codrington's account, controversies over how to define mana continue into the present.31 In relation to Maori cloaks mana draws our attention to how the authority with which taonga are imbued is authenticated through access to cosmological phenomena. Here is where we locate women's exclusive role: it is in the rituals surrounding human reproduction and cloth production where women gain control over mana which, in turn, gives them a domain of authority and power in their own right. And here also, we locate the source of “the spirit of the gift.”

In the last century, Codrington collected extensive ethnographic information from Solomon Islanders who told him that mana is the source of a chief's spiritual power. Because mana originates with the “ghosts” of ancestors, a chief is able to bring this power to bear on contemporary actions, thereby enhancing his own chiefly authority.32 Mana can be inherited but it also can be lost or used in antisocial ways to (p.51) bring sickness and death. Further, mana permeates a chief's possessions; its presence in things attracts others to him.33 For Codrington, mana represents power outside ordinary human agency and nature—a substance transmitted from the dead to the living that continues to pass from one generation to the next.

Mauss, intrigued with Codrington's descriptions, wrote an essay with his colleague, Henri Hubert, to uncover mana's universal meaning and structure.34 This attempt was largely unsuccessful and Raymond Firth, among others, faults them for grammatically confusing the issue by describing mana as a noun, an adjective, and a verb. In fact, Firth earlier dismisses Mauss's example of the hau as too metaphysical to have any ethnographic reality.35 But Hubert and Mauss conclude that because things, actions, and people are organized hierarchically, thereby controlling one another, mana embodies “the idea of these differences in potential.”36 Unfortunately, they take this thought no further and resolve the issue by making mana a fact of collective life.

Recently, Roger Keesing argues against Codrington's description of mana showing that such force is not metaphysical because Melanesians and even some Polynesians define mana as luck or efficacy, referring to mana as power only in a “quasi-physical” sense.37 Yet Keesing also admits, following Codrington, that in certain Polynesian societies, such as those in New Zealand, Hawaii, the Marquesas, and Tahiti, mana became more “substantivized” with the emergence of a priestly class that elaborated its cosmological implications as “metaphoric ‘power.’”38 It is, however, precisely this metaphysical power of mana that provides the underlying authentication of inalienable possessions—through women and without the need of a priestly class.

A possession like a feathered cloak or a jeweled crown can affirm rank, authority, power, and even divine rule because it stands symbolically as the representative of a group's historical or mythical origins. The classicist Louis Gernet suggests this point when he notes that, among the ancient Greeks, it is in the association of certain objects with magical powers that we find “the earliest social understandings of the different aspects of authority.”39 The absolute value of an inalienable possession is this authenticity, its foundation in its sacred origins which pervades its unique existence in the present.

In Polynesia, the highest cosmological authentication attributed to inalienable possessions occurs through the authority of famous ancestors or gods and their mana. Like the authentication of inalienable ancient Greek libation cups and woven garments whose sacred source of (p.52) power came directly from gods and goddesses, to own these possessions is to participate directly in this power. In this way, one's claim to authority affirms one's genealogical or mythical history and therefore supports the ranking of one's social identity in the present. The Greek example shows that cosmological power resides in both women's and men's possessions, but in anthropological discussions about mana, most often men are the ones cited as having cosmological or divine powers. Yet women's activities involve them in the transmission of mana, giving them considerable authority in economic and political affairs.40

Throughout Polynesia, to become infused with mana a person must enter. a state of tapu, where special taboos and ritual prerogatives are in effect. Anthropological accounts of this tapu call attention to chiefs or priests who occupy the only positions of authority. Even the translation by some writers of mana as “procreative power”41 is discussed in terms of male rulers. Valerio Valeri, in defining the meaning of mana for ancient Hawaiians writes that “the real locus of mana is in the reciprocal but hierarchical relationship between the gods whose actions demonstrate efficacy and the men who, by recognizing that efficacy, increase and fully actualize it.” It is this relationship that “truly causes their [i.e., men's] ownership of mana.”42 Although Valeri includes references to the mana of goddesses, to the power of bark cloth to invoke or curb mana, and to images and metaphors of giving birth,43 these instances never temper his total emphasis on the authority and power that men claim through their relationship with male gods. Yet in ancient Hawaii, some women achieved great fame as powerful rulers exercising authority over their subjects including, of course, men. But for Valeri, the only cosmological pantheon that counts is that of male gods; biological reproduction merely reduces women to a profane life where they are excluded from all important rituals. Sahlins, too, ignores the power and authority that women gain from mana by analyzing Polynesian women's sexuality and reproduction as the cause of their negative, profane placement in the structural and behavioral scheme of things.44 In fact, this ethnographic muddle of the data has a long history in Polynesian studies, not only in discounting women's power and their attainment of mana, but it also allows for a misreading of the fact that it is the procreative power of women that lies at the root of mana's metaphysical efficacy.

When early Polynesian accounts are read with care, we find that in all the ranking societies mentioned by Keesing elite women are imbued with mana directly through their own birthright as well as through (p.53) their tapu state during pregnancy and giving birth. Through human reproduction, mana is not only transmitted to an infant but through the attendant rituals it confirms high-ranking titles and genealogies. In a similar way with the Maori, mana is transferred through rituals to a woman's flax threads that she uses in weaving cloaks. Not only the weaver but the weaving poles are tapu and while working both the poles and the threads have to be attended to appropriately or, like Codrington's examples, sickness or even death is thought to occur.45

These examples show how highly valued women's cosmological potency is and how its transformation into material possessions has the highest value. The relation among women, reproduction, and mana is as central to high-ranking women's access to power and authority as it is to high-ranking men's political achievements. With high-ranking women, all things associated with pregnancy and birth are infused with mana and, in this state, women are tapu. Furthermore among women, reproduction, and mana is as central to high-ranking women's access to power and authority as it is to high-ranking men's political achievements. With high-ranking women, all things associated with pregnancy and birth are infused with mana and, in this state, women are tapu. Furthermore between male sacredness and female pollution is largely based on readings of Maori myths that have been interpreted using simplistic male/female symbolic oppositions to show that Maori female genitalia are polluting to gods and men. Yet as the Hansons point out, in these myths women's genitals can also be interpreted as divine “portals” through which sacred connections between gods and hwnans are established.46

Thus, like men in warfare, women exercise their own powers over mana and tapu that can be both violent and sacred. Like men they are both feared and acclaimed, as much agents of political success as harbingers of political failures. Despite the anthropological record, which so often ignores the political presence of women, high-ranking Maori women achieved political prominence in their own right and some of them became great chiefs.47 As sisters, these elite women, as shown in figure 7, are revered by their own natal community and become the “pivot upon which the mana of the tribe rested.”48 Today, the presence of a woman elder at political meetings with the high-ranking tattoo on her lips gives her group an authority that cannot be surpassed by the presence of any man.49

Once women's associations with mana and tapu are acknowledged, we then can see the source of mana in women's cloth production. So powerful do these fibers become that gods are thought to enter into (p.54) the threads themselves. For example, religious experts carried wooden staffs with carved heads which they used for calling lipon the help of gods; these “god-sticks” were similar in form to weaving poles.50 But only when the staff was placed in the ground and a piece of flax was tied around the neck of the figure could the god be induced. As the expert tugged on the flax while chanting a spell, the god was attracted to the thread. Without the precious cloth tied around it, the figure had no power at all.51 The assumption is that such experts were always men, but women, too, had powers that made them able to induce tapu states and to dispel tapu.52 This example returns us to the original problem of what Mauss meant by the hau as “the spirit of the gift.” Only by understanding the intricate relationship between cloaks and human and cultural reproduction can we discern what Ranapiri meant by the hau.

The Hau and Cloth Taonga

According to Elsdon Best, the principal tutelary being of Maori women, Hine-te-iwaiwa, presided over both childbirth and the art of weaving.53 The poles used by women to support themselves during delivery were similar to those used for weaving and as god-sticks.54 Following a birth, a dedicatory formula was recited during which time a small hank of dressed flax fiber was placed in the infant's hands. When the umbilical cord was to be cut, it was tied with a piece of prepared flax, and in the case of infants of high rank, the cord was cut with a valued nephrite taonga;55 these stones had special names that referred to famous cloaks.56 In the naming ceremony following each birth, we find the associations between cloth taonga and hau even more specifically expressed.

After the removal of the umbilical cord, the child and mother left the birth house (wharekahu) to return to the village. Before returning, however, a special ritual, tohi, was performed in which the child received its name.57 The parents, infant, and relatives went with a religious expert to a stream in a secluded place. Here at the bank of the stream a variety of the finest woven cloaks was spread out and arranged in a specific way so that the hems of the collars were at the edge of the water. Collars were the most sacred parts of the cloaks and the word for collar is the same as that for the early practice of plaiting mats that the Maori first brought with them to New Zealand.58 The parents then (p.55) seated themselves on the cloaks, now called paparoa the place of honor, and if sacred possessions were available they also were placed on the cloaks.59

The expert recited a chant describing the strength and beauty of the child in which he invoked various gods. Calling upon the child to hear him and open his or her mind to his words, the expert proclaims the expected strength of the child for warfare if a boy or the ability to learn to weave if a girl.60 Thus at this early age, both genders had specific domains that were comparable. The group then returned to the village and the cloaks were “lifted by the collars and carried away” by the father's parents or grandparents.61 Back in the village the cloaks were again spread out in the same formal way at the sacred place, the window space on the porch of the principal house. The infant was placed on the cloaks, and gifts were placed around the child.

I described the tohi at some length because it is in this ritual that the hau is transmitted to the child and cloaks act as the agent of transmission.62 An account by W. E. Gudgeon specifically explains the way the hau is conferred during the naming ceremony.63

We are told that the hau is conferred upon the child by its elder relatives when they perform the ceremony of tohi, hence if there has been no tohi there can be no hau.… It is a perfectly logical conclusion so far as the Maori is concerned to say that the tohi produces the hau; because according to their own traditions the first man was merely clay until life and intellect [were] conferred upon him by the breath of the god … and therefore the Maori is justified in assuming that the child is mere clay until the tohi has invested him with the divine spark.64

Thus the hau of each person was activated in the tohi ritual as a sign of each person's vitality, knowledge, and ability. Although neither Gudgeon nor others mention specifically whether flax threads or cloaks were the agents for transmission of the hau, numerous circumstances are cited elsewhere in which the Maori believe that threads and cloaks act as conduits to a person's hau. For example, when someone dies, a ritual is performed in which the tags from the dead person's cloak are pulled by her or his kin, thus sending the person's hau on its way.65 At any time, the hau, once vested in a person, can be lost. A person's hau could be attacked by others, causing death, and the medium of such an attack was flax thread that belonged to the subject. An expert first had to obtain the thread and then it was inserted into a hole in a mound of earth made to resemble a human form. Spells were recited causing the (p.56) hau of the subject to descend the cord into the hole where it was confined and destroyed.66 From these examples, we see that the hau can be separated from the person. The hau brings to the person the potential for strength and knowledge, but the person always is in danger of its loss. The association between persons and things, however, draws on more than the hau. For threads and cloaks act as media, extending the presence of a person into situations where the material object, the cloak, or even its threads, stands for the person. In the semantic connections, rituals, and beliefs surrounding birth and death, flax threads and cloaks figure significantly in the transmission of mana from gods to high-ranking people. But these fibers and fabrics also transmit or interfere with each individual's personal life force, the hau. Because of these connections, each cloak had its own identity, initially established by its aesthetic beauty and the expertise of the woman who wove it. But its mana is what imbues the cloak with a cosmological authentication, giving it more than a personal history. Here we begin to see how these possessions reveal not only clan and individual histories but Maori history itself.

Taonga as Cultural History

Maori cloaks circulated as taonga from a very early time. The ancestors of the Maori who first came to New Zealand brought with them the techniques for barkcloth and mat production used widely throughout Polynesia.67 But the climate prohibited the extensive cultivation of the imported paper mulberry tree from which bark cloth is most often made; this kind of cloth was inadequate against the colder New Zealand weather. The subsequent use of flax, with the introduction of a more complex finger-weaving technique, ultimately created a technology unique to the Maori while sustaining the wider Polynesian tradition of cloth wealth and its sacred associations that gave such possessions absolute value.68 Because of the traditional lack of interest in cloth as wealth on the part of archaeologists and the fact that bark cloth and cloaks disintegrate in a tropical climate, it is difficult to pinpoint the prevalence of cloaks archaeologically. The earliest cloak found in a burial site dates to the seventeenth century, but burials from the much earlier Archaic period beginning around A.D. 800 include many cloak pins and needles.69

(p.57) Maori cloaks are not the only taonga. In ancient times, human bones were also considered taonga and like cloaks, the bones of high-ranking people were revered because they remained infused with a person's mana. Burials from the Archaic phase disclose that skulls and other bones were often missing.70 Bellwood suggests that such bones “were very probably removed for ancestor rituals and to make ornaments for relatives.”71 In the late nineteenth century, Best reported that ancestors' bones were deeply cherished, and at a death they were placed around the corpse along with valued cloaks and other sacred possessions.72 In the early nineteenth century, Joel S. Polack reported similar observances, especially for chiefs.73 During parturition, a flute made from the bones of a woman's ancestors would be played by her father or grandfather proclaiming the infant's genealogical connections.74 The bones of an important woman would be revered as a source of mana and her kin would use her bones to draw on their ancestors' accessibility to the gods.75 Although a person's ancestral bones were guarded and protected in these ways, the bones of enemies taken in battle were made into fishhooks and spearpoints.76 The most explicit reference for the use of bones directly as wealth comes from Firth who reports that when a person refused to sell his land for “garments and weapons” (the usual exchange medium), he would be tempted to give it over only if the potential buyer had obtained the skull of his ancestor, taken in warfare or gotten in an exchange, and offered it to him as payment.77

The Maori practiced secondary burial, and each time bones were exhumed, they were carefully wrapped in cloaks before they were reburied or finally deposited in a cave.78 Best describes the ritual associated with the reburial of bones and it is exactly like the display of a child after the naming ceremony discussed above: “On reaching the village the bones would be deposited in the porch of the principal house, below the [sacred] window space, and on mats [cloaks] spread for the purpose.”79 At the completion of this final stage, if the deceased were a chief, the bones would be carefully wrapped in cloaks and deposited in some part of the ancestral land. Sidney Mead wrote that through these secondary burials the deceased becomes an ancestor whose spiritual presence is realized through bones and cloaks.80

Nephrite objects suddenly appear in the archaeological record in the Classic Maori Phase from about A.D. 1300 to A.D. 1500, at which time palisaded villages were in evidence and significant population expansion had occurred. Therefore, their use coincides with a major development in political hierarchy. Numerous writers report that the most valued (p.58) nephrite taonga were fashioned into adzes, ornaments or weapons (see figs. 7 and 8). Each handle, buried with a chief was refashioned at the installation of a successor whereas the stone, endowed with mana and representing the origins of clan identities, continued to pass from one chief to the next.81 The adzes were used to make the first chips of a canoe or a new house, thereby invoking the authority of gods, goddesses, and ancestors. The sculptured hei-tiki (that is, nephrite neck pendants, such as those worn by the women in figure 7) that resemble a cross-legged human being carved with its head tilted to one side and in most cases, with female genitals, also received individual names and were inherited by relatives after an owner died. Like cloaks, all nephrite taonga were presented at naming ceremonies, ear-piercing rituals, marriages, and deaths, and when these possessions were on view, the histories of battles and ownership would be recounted.82 Thus in the course of Maori history, with increasing social stratification and political control, sacred nephrite weapons and ornaments replaced bones as taonga, although the “economic” significance and sacredness of bones never completely disappeared.83 Early Maori sources suggest that the hei-tiki represented the immortalization of an individual in the way that nephrite weapons represented the chief and the tribe.84 At times, a nephrite taonga could be converted into a tiki as a way of honoring a special relationship. The mana in a taonga could be shared with someone by changing the object into a different form.85 Altering objects in this way also suggests that the drawing of female genitals on the nephrite neck pendants was perhaps an inventive attempt to recreate in nephrite the reproductive symbolism conveyed by cloth.

Despite the increasing use of nephrite, cloaks continued to occupy the high status of taonga, even though nephrite was imbued with similar sacred connections to hau, mana, and the history of gods and humans. For example, cloaks, like nephrite adzes, were used as payment for ceding land titles to others,86 as compensation payment for crimes, and for the performances of rituals.87 Cloaks and nephrite possessions both moved in the same direction when they were distributed at births, marriages, and, most importantly, at deaths. They were displayed and handled with great emotion and elicited historical recounting.88 Many early writers describe the large quantity of cloaks that, following a death, are brought by relatives and spread over the deceased as “coverings.”89

In a general ethnological sense, cloth differs from bones because cloth is not an actual human physical substance, but rather a kind of symbolic skin, technically complex, that is most often used as a (p.59) wrapping or covering. Like skin that reveals age and health, beauty and ugliness, cloth adorns and conceals, heightens and disguises these natural characteristics. It is not accidental that the very physicality of cloth, its woven-ness, and its potential for fraying and unraveling denote the vulnerability in acts of connectedness and tying, in human and cultural reproduction, and in decay and death. Contrastingly, hard possessions such as jade, precious metal, or bones are much more durable than cloth, making them better physical objects for symbolizing permanence and historical accountings. Cloth, unlike hard materials, is able to represent the more realistic paradox of how permanence in social, political, and ancestral relationships is sought after despite the precar ousness of these relationships always subject to loss, decay, and death.

From Europe to the Pacific, bones (or other hard substances) and cloth, complementing each other, are still revered as sacred possessions and are vied over as significant economic resources. Asearly as the sixth century, saintly pieces of bone and cloth were prized and fought over by groups within the Catholic church as rights to such possessions were necessary to establish a new religious community.90 Consider that it has taken over nine hundred years to disprove the authenticity of the famous shroud of Turin and even when recent carbon-14 dates showed that the flax was from medieval rather than Roman times, many Catholics still believe the shroud is inspirational.91 In many other places, such as among the Indonesian Batak where gold and silver ornaments and fabrics are major marriage exchanges,92 or the Northwest Coast Kwakiutl who say “this prized copper is our bones” but give it up in a potlatch, it is always hoped that the most ancient textiles imbued with special names and mythical histories preserved as inalienable treasures will not be forced to enter these exchanges. When a famous Maori nephrite adze that had been lost for seven generations was discovered in 1877, the Maori people still remembered the histories associated with the adze. But upon its recognition, it was wrapped in sixteen of the most valued and finest cloaks and more than three hundred villagers cried over these objects as they assembled to view them.93 More recently, when the Maori exhibition, Te Maori: Maori Art from New Zealand Collections, toured the United States, no cloaks were displayed. The Maori elders in charge of organizing the loans decided that the cloaks were too valuable and precious to travel abroad.94

In general, cloth occupies a special place in human history, an analog to bones and shells that aesthetically and technologically transforms a natural substance into one that is culturally and symbolically complex. For example, before flax can be twisted into threads, the plant leaves (p.60) must be cut, stripped, soaked, and then beat, dried and bleached. Dyeing, weaving, and further ornamentation require additional knowledge and skills. Within an entire spectrum of cloth production, such labor intensity and manifold technical practices can signify historical change through differences in style and fashion just as treasured cloths with their ancient patterns emphasize stability for those who are able to control their circulation.

The many examples of wrapping cloth around people, statues of gods or even human bones illuminate the way cloth represents all manner of human and cosmological connections. The photograph of an Ojibwa Indian woman, as shown in figure 9, illustrates how widespread are the connections between humans and cloth. Here, instead of wrapping bones in cloth as the Maori did, a widow (or widower) made a great bundle out of her dead spouse's clothes and carried it wherever she went. Similarly in the Trobriand Islands, a dead woman's skirt or a man's basket, each adorned with the dead person's personal possessions is carried everywhere by a mourning relative throughout the major mourning period.

The most dramatic political difference between cloth and bones, however, is the replicability of cloth. Whereas a famous cloak is protected from loss, other less valuable cloaks are produced and exchanged. Because cloth is like the body yet, unlike bones, not the body, increasing production leads to the stockpiling of cloaks—the development of a currency that, although still expressive of social factors, enables those in power to trade and exchange more widely. In the same way, shells, minerals, and metals, symbolic of bones, fill treasuries and enable a person to withstand competing forces by being able, with sartorial brilliance, to keep-while-giving. In this way, we see how certain possessions attain absolute value and how this value makes inalienability a major goal that is always being contested. At the same time, we also see the inventive responses to change, directing us to consider that when ranking and hierarchy are at stake inalienable possessions are the key to institutionalizing these political claims.

Inalienable Possessions and Hierarchy

Although all Maori cloaks are believed to take on a person's semblance (aahua), chiefs' cloaks are so heavily tapu that no lower-ranking person would dare to touch one. In this way, famous (p.61) cloaks develop their own unique identities.95 So great is the mana of high-ranking cloaks that if a woman throws a cloak over a man, he becomes her husband. In other circumstances, throwing such a valued cloak over a condemned person spares his life because the cloak serves as ransom.96 To part with this cloak is a tragic loss because its mana enhances that of its new owner. In the last century, wars were fought just so a famous nephrite adze or a cloak could be captured.97 If a chief knew that another group planned to attack his village and he thought that his own group could not defend itself instead of fighting he would give up his most valued taonga. The chief knew that the real objective of the attack was to gain “tribal treasures.” Therefore, he and his relatives would pay a ceremonial visit to those whom they feared and, before the fighting could begin, they relinquished their prized possessions.98 As Sidney Mead notes, when a challenging party accepts cloaks instead of fighting, they have attained the “aahua—the semblance of victory.” Each victory, however, is short-lived, because the loss of taonga triggers later attacks to return the valuables to their “foyer d'origine.”99

Even after a person dies, these possessions remain active. Depending on the rank of the person, some taonga are buried with the deceased; others, with the tapu removed, are stored in large, carved wooden boxes to be brought out later and cried over (like kula shells) but ultimately, to be guarded as valued inalienable taonga.100 An account of an incident in 1856 involving the sale of land to Europeans depicts Maori attitudes toward taonga and expresses how precisely they understood the absolute value of inalienable possessions in relation to the Europeans' use of money.

[A] chief … struck into the ground at the feet of the Land Purchase Commissioner a greenstone axe, saying, “Now that we have forever launched this land into the sea, we hereby make over to you this axe, named Paewhenua, which we have always highly prized from the fact of our having regained it in battle after it was used by our enemies to kill two of our most celebrated chiefs.… Money vanishes and disappears, but this greenstone will endure as a lasting witness of our act, as the land itself, which we have now … transferred to you for ever.”101

Although both cloaks and nephrite objects circulated widely as payments for services and in other economic exchanges.102 a contemporary account reveals the social and political significance of taonga as inalienable possessions. At funeral practices and all other major exchange events

(p.62) greenstone weapons and ornaments with names and histories … feather cloaks, and fine flaxmats … [are presented]. Such gifts may be kept for years, but most are ultimately returned to the donors on a comparable occasion. The recipients hold the min trust: they do not “own” the mattd should not dispose of them to anyone except a member of the donor group. Pake has [Europeans] who are given such gifts as recognition of their social or political standing often offend in thisrespect out of ignorance [emphasis mine].103

These most highly prized taonga, owned by individuals of distinguished rank, remain inalienable, transmitted only to those reckoning the same ancestors and, through time, all efforts are made to keep them within the “tribal boundaries.” In 1888, John White recounted:

In the old custom it was proper for such men [chiefs] to exchange such weapons, because they represented the descent lines which held them in keeping. A prized greenstone weapon was kept for a time by the descendants in one line of descent, and then they carried it and presented it to those in another line of descent from the tribal ancestor who first made it.104

A few brief notes about Maori social organization show the way ownership of taonga affected kinship alignments. The Maori reckon descent cognatically; socially they are organized into territorially located tribes, subtribes, and extended families. Although genealogical links through agnatic lines are important, links through uterine lines are also consequential. In the last century, chiefs and elders forged alliances through marriages, large-scale distributions of food and other possessions, grand oratorical competitions, and warfare.105 Except for warfare, these gatherings at the marae, a territorial space where a descent group's rituals and political meetings take place, continue to playa leading role in contemporary Maori life.106

In this complex kinship milieu, every major event in a person's life becomes an occasion for exchange that takes on political consequences. Junior lines compete with senior lines whereas the authority invested in a chiefly title can be diminished or expanded depending upon the titleholder's leadership skills. Having possessions to give away to others is essential but the guardianship and appropriate inheritance of those inalienable possessions that carry the mana of famous ancestors are strategic. Such possessions could be placed in the care of someone else, but could never be given away; “to do so would be to give away the chieftainship of the tribe.”107 To keep such possessions that authenticate one's genealogical and cosmological depth confirms one's right (p.63) to a title. Keeping also attracts both allies and rivals who, through friendship or deception, want to share in this power. All sorts of political strategies are enacted to gain well-known taonga treasures; keeping heightens the political stakes while it also increases the taonga's value. To give away much that one owns at an important commemorative occasion is a worthy political victory, only if a chief is able to keep the group's most precious taonga intact. The ownership of inalienable possessions proves one's difference, making all other exchanges resonate this difference.

The Han and Taonga: Keeping-While-Giving

Finally to return to the hau, we see that Ranapiri's text is not enigmatic, nor is Mauss's interpretation of the hau mystical. The hau as a life force embedded in the person is transmitted to the person's possessions. The ethnography shows that the hau must be given following birth and is lost through antisocial means or at death. The hau is permeable in that it must be replaced in people and things, instilling people with a creative force that creates a bond between them. However, the taonga and the hau are not identical because a taonga, as an inalienable possession, carries the force of history and tradition. The hau of each owner enters the taonga, but the taonga's value is based much less on personal identity than on the cumulative social and cosmological identities of past owners. Therefore, although the taonga is the vehicle of both the hau and history, these meanings are separable. In fact, Mauss sensed some kind of confusion in his own explanation when he wrote in a footnote, “Indeed the taonga seem to be endowed with individuality, even beyond the hau that is conferred upon them through their relationship with their owner.”108 The taonga given to someone should return because it is inalienable, but the hau can be detached from an object so that another taonga may carry the original “semblance” of the person. When Ranapiri explains that when a taonga is given to another person, it will be repaid with another taonga, this is a" replacement for the original. But when an exceptionally fine taonga is given, there is no replacement possible. Each high-ranking cloak or nephrite possession subjectively defines an exclusive set of social and (p.64) cosmological relationships. To give away a taonga to someone else is to make that person an ultimate part of these relationships. To claim another person's taonga is more than a personal victory; it is to assume another's rank, name, and history.

The mana present in a taonga authenticates the differential ranking of chiefs and their tribes. Although the hau is a personal life force that is thought to imbue all persons and things with this vitality, mana is a cosmological power that can only be the prerogative of high-ranking people. Men's and women's status, rank, and access to mana originate in women's reproductive potency, which connects human beings to the feared. yet ultimate resources of ancestors and deities. Not only in human reproduction but in the cultural activities of birth and cloth production, women bring these powerful sources of authority to bear on the negotiation of political relations. Mana infuses possessions with a power that, although feared, is coveted. So sanctified do the taonga of high-ranking people become that the possessions associated with them take on the same symbolic powers. When taonga were brought onto the marae, they were often greeted as persons (see fig. 9), as though the ancestors they represented were actually present.109

An individual's role in social life is fragmentary unless attached to something of permanence. The history of the past, equally fragmentary, is concentrated in an object that, with age, becomes increasingly valuable. In the Maori case, a person's life force, the hau, also penetrates these possessions. And among high-ranking people, mana, the source of reproductive potency and cosmological power contributes its sacred efficacy. The dynamics surrounding keeping-while-giving are attempts, paradoxical though they may be, to give the fragmentary nature of social life a wholeness, thereby strengthening each new generation with the fame of past generations. But these possessions do more than replicate the past. Their fame and power pervade all exchange events for giving and the status. that ensues is measured by what has been kept.

Reciprocity only provides the outer manifestation of social interaction. Such acts appear to disguise difference, but in reality they proclaim the variation between participants in status or rank authenticated by the inalienable possessions a person is able to retain. The fact of ownership, be it an ancestral name, knowledge of a myth or ritual, or a magnificent flax cloak, enters into all other exchange events defending, usurping and in some situations, defeating political hierarchy. In order to play these games for high political stakes, participants require (p.65) replacements, such as hundreds of other cloaks or fine mats, to keep their most prized possessions out of circulation, even as they must continue to keep these possessions prominent in people's minds. The ultimate solution which divine rulers attempted to attain is to establish difference without the need to defend it—the Andaman Islanders' myth of a world without exchange.


(1.) Edmund Leach (1957:127) called Malinowski an “obsessional empiricist” at once both a rebel against late nineteenth-century mechanistic thought but still a “child of his time,” a victim of “those very epistemological windmills against which he charged so valiantly.” See Weiner 1987 for another discussion of this problem in relation to Malinowski's Trobriand ethnography.

(2.) Malinowski 1922:89.

(4.) Ibid. But in the next sentence Malinowski writes: “With reverence he also would name them, and tell their history, and by whom and when they were worn, and how they changed hands, and how their temporary possession was a great sign of the importance and glory of the village.”

(5.) Ibid.:512.

(6.) Ibid.:513.

(7.) Ibid.:513–514.

(8.) In an earlier essay, “Origines de la notion de monnaie” ([1914], 1969) Mauss already had surveyed Malaysian and Polynesian sources for information on property and sacred possessions.

(9.) There have been four major reanalyses of Mauss's views: Firth [1929] 1959; Johansen 1954; Lévi-Strauss [1950] 1987; and Sahlins 1968 with numerous replies and reanalyses, including Gathercole 1978; Guidieri 1984; and MacCormack 1982. Much of the data in this chapter are taken from my earlier essay published in American Ethnologist titled “Inalienable Wealth” (Weiner 1985a), but the theoretial scope has been expanded.

(10.) Sahlins 1972:160. In Weiner 1985a I present an extended discussion of Firth's critique of Mauss's analysis and Sahlins's reinterpretation of the hau, neither of which I elaborate on here.

(p.164) (11.) Mauss [1925] 1954:41–42. In French medieval legal codes things immeubte include landed estates and other fixed property, whereas meuble designates personal property, chattel, and other things that can be alienated. Yet in the first English edition of Essai sur le don (ibid., 7) immeuble when used for Samoan fine mats is translated “indestructible property” and “real property” whereas in the second edition (Mauss [1925] 1990:9), the same references are translated “permanent paraphernalia” and “fixed property-immovable because of their destination” still obscuring for English-speaking readers the relevance of inalienable possessions. Later in that second edition, Mauss [1925] (ibid., 134, n. 245) notes that the Kwakiutl have two kinds of coppers: the more important ones that do not go out of the family and others that are of less value which in their circulation seem to be “satellites” for the first kind. See also Mauss ([1925] 1954:89, n. 17) on Samoan fine mats as “heirlooms.”

(12.) In the first English edition, when Mauss ([1925] 1954:6) first refers to Samoan exchanges of ie toga and oloa, the terms are translated “masculine and feminine property,” respectively. The French term for such exchange is uterine See Weiner 1989:50–51 for a discussion of the problems surrounding the ethnographic reporting of Samoan exchanges of fine mats for oloa, as described in Shore 1982.

(13.) Mauss [1925] 1990:10.

(14.) In citing cognates Mauss [1925] 1990:10) mentions other objects such as “precious articles, talismans, emblems, mats and sacred idols, sometimes even the traditions, cults, and magic rituals,” thus confusing the issue. But in Tahitian, taoga means property or goods, and in ancient Tahiti, barkcloth was among the most valued wealth objects. In Tonga, tooga refers to fine mats, and in Mangareva, toga is the word for a cloak made from the paper mulberry tree. Among the Maori, taonga refer to nephrite objects and to woven cloaks, often called “mats” in the early literature; in a footnote on Maori taonga, Mauss is more precise: they include “the pounamu, the famous jades, the sacred property of the chiefs and the clans, usually the tiki, very rare, very personal, and very well carved; then there are various sorts of mats, one of which, doubtless emblazoned as in Samoa, bears the name korowai”(ibid., 91, n. 32).

(15.) Schneider and Weiner 1989:20–26; see also Lefferts 1983; March 1983; Cort 1989; Feeley-Hamik 1989; Gittinger 1979; Hoskins 1989; Messick 1987; Rubenstein 1986; J. Schneider 1987, 1989; Stone-Ferrier 1989.

(16.) Even with the economic value of Polynesian cloth and its political significance (Weiner 1982a, 1985a, 1989, and Weiner and Schneider 1989), not to mention women's centrality in its circulation, scholars (e.g., Goldman 1970; Kirch 1984; Ortner 1981; Sahlins 1958, 1972) continually overlook these objects as well as the women who make them in discussions of Polynesian political hierarchy. For descriptions of Polynesian cloth production see Buck 1924, 1964; Kooijman 1972, 1977; S. Mead 1969 on Maori cloaks; Gailey 1987 and Small 1987 on the economic implications of Tongan barkcloth production; Teckle 1984 on Fijian barkcloth production and exchange; and Rubenstein 1986 on Micronesian cloth production and its symbolic importance.

(17.) See Weiner and Sclmeider 1989 and J. Schneider 1987.

(18.) Mauss [1925] 1990:11.

(p.165) (19.) Ibid. The text was first translated by Elsdon Best (1909:439) as it was told to him by his noted Maori informant, Tamati Ranapiri, and since then it has undergone many translations: Mauss's revised quotation of Best's translation (Mauss 1925), the first English translation of Mauss (1954), and the second as cited here as well as Professor Bruce Biggs's translation as quoted in Sahlins 1968 also 1972); it has also undergone innumerable critiques and reinterpretations. In the original Maori text, Ranapiri describes a series of exchanges in which the return for a valuable that passes from A to B to C would go from C through B and back to A. Note the similarity between this kind of exchange and Malinowski's description of Trobriand kula. Mauss was aware of these similarities when he wrote The Gift and this description, based on both Mauss and Malinowski, would later become Lévi-Strauss's [1949] 1969) formulation of “generalized reciprocity.”

(20.) Biggs in his translation of Ranapiri's text as cited in Sahlins (1968, 1972) used the word valuable each time Ranapiri referred to taonga.

(21.) Looking carefully at Best's translation, however, we immediately find a source of confusion because Best translated taonga with a variety of words such as “item,” “article,” “present,” and “goods,” indicating that he attached no significance to Ranapiri's use of taonga. Mauss must have recognized Best's inconsistency because in the middle of the text, he substituted taonga for Best's varied translation.

(22.) Pendergrast 1987:4.

(23.) Generically the flax is Phormium tenax. The Maori word base kahu is a reflexof the Proto-Polynesian term kafu, which means covering or cloth. See Best 1898b; Buck 1924; S. Mead 1969; Pendergrast 1987; Roth [1923] 1979 for discussions of production, styles, and weaving techniques.

(24.) Buck 1950:462; H. W. Williams [1844] 1975:84.

(25.) Best 1914, 1929b.

(26.) H. W. Williams [1844] 1975:84–85; Buck 1950:462.

(27.) Shortland 1882:107; Tregear 1891:113.

(28.) Best 1905/1906:12–15; Buck 1950:462–465; Shortland 1882:294. In ancient Hawaii, if a miscarriage occurred, the fetus acquired mana and became a deified spirit (Pukui 1942:378–379). In the Marquesas, even the first menstruation of a chiefly woman was attended with elaborate tapus that celebrated her potency (Thomas 1987:129).

(29.) Best states that “in Maori myth and belief the female sex is assigned an inferior position generally, and is spoken of as being connected with evil, misfortune, and death” (1924a:222). He notes, for example, that the spirit of the aborted fetus is thought to develop into a dangerous and malevolent spirit (atua). Yet in another source, Best reports these same spirits from miscarriages might be cultivated into war gods so that their power could be directed against powerful enemies (1905/1906:15). In Samoa, ancestral spirits (aitu) are believed to come into being from clots of blood and miscarriages (Cain 1971). See also the differences in two of Best's publications where he discusses the sacred and profane aspects of Maori women (1905/1906:16) and Maori men (1902:25).

(30.) The controversies over the meaning of mana have been especially (p.166) longlasting: e.g., Codrington 1891; Firth 1940; Hocart 1914, 1922; Hubert and Mauss [1898] 1964] (see Mauss 1975); Keesing 1984; Shore 1989; Valeri 1985. There has always been general agreement, however, that mana is associated with chiefly power-implicitly male chiefly power.

(31.) Valerio Valeri (1985:95–105) provides an extensive review of the major anthropological interpretations of mana and then relates them to his interpretation of how mana was used in ancient Hawaii.

(32.) Codrington 1891:51–52, 119–121.

(33.) Ibid.:57.

(34.) Hubert and Mauss 1898 1964.

(35.) See, Firth 1940:483–484 on mana. Elsewhere Firth writes that “Mauss appears to have misinterpreted the Maori concept of the hau by ascribing to this ‘vital essence’ qualities with which it is not really endowed” ([1929] 1959:419).

(36.) Mauss 1975:121.

(37.) This samepragmatic meaning of mana has also been reported by, Firth 1940; Hocart 1922; and Hogbin 1935/1936).

(38.) Keesing 1984:152.

(39.) Gernet 1981:144. In writing about mana, Hubert and Mauss, following Durkheim's theory of the sacred, suggest that the quality of mana has a definite place in society in that it most often is considered to exist “outside the normal world and normal practices” (Mauss 1975:119). From a different perspective, Benjamin ([1955] 1969:221) emphasizes that works of art contain a “sensitive nucleus” that is “the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony of the history which it has experienced.”

(40.) Such importance associated with cloth as a conduit of ancestral power is found in many parts of the world. In the Yoruba Egungun cult in West M rica, where tailored cloth displays patrilineal solidarity, uncut cloth figures in the Efe-Gelede cult invokes the spiritual powers of elder women, female ancestors, and their deified spirits (Drewal 1979:197–198).

(41.) Aarne A. Koskinen 1972:104–105) argues that mana's primary meaning is procreative power, an interpretation described by other male scholars as male procreative power. See the same views espoused more recently by Sahlins 1981:15–17) and Valeri (1985:330–331).

(42.) Valeri 1985:104. Valeri argues that in ancient Hawaii only Hawaiian chiefs mediated between the “pure divine” and the human world whereas women occupied ther “feminine destructive polluting pole” (ibid.: 113, 123–124). Sherry Ortner's essay on Polynesian gender and political hierarchy reveals how even feminist authors rely on misread classic interpretations. Ortner maintains that in Polynesia “negative ideology concerning women centers upon their sexual and reproductive activities” (1981:395). But Neil Gunson (1987:168) emphasizes that Polynesian “chiefly women, both sacred and secular, have obviously played an important role” and that studies that “do not give a prominent place to the political activities and social influence of women are likely to be in need of drastic revision.” Discussing Marquesian gender and rank, Nicholas Thomas 1987 concludes that “women of higher rank were less (p.167) sharply distinguished from men than common women in respect of tapu rules and political action, as well as economically” (p. 138). See also Linnekin 1990 on Hawaiian women as sacred queens.

(43.) For references to mana and barkcloth see Valeri 1985:100, 290–295. On women as goddesses see Valeri 1985: 101, 245, 274); and Linnekin 1990:24–28. And on reproduction see Valeri 1985: 98, 270, 276, 287.

(44.) See Sahlins 1985:139-140 on Hawaii and the ancient Maori (ibid.: 55); but also see Weiner's(1985a:221–222) discussion of the gender implications of Sahlins's interpretation of the Maori haul

(45.) Best 1898:129; Buck 1924; S. Mead 1969. All weaving was done by women, except for certain kinds of dog-skin cloaks that were used in warfare and sometimes attended to by men. In many other societies, women's rituals of childbirth are similar to those practiced in cloth production. For example, among the Iban of Indonesia, women observe sacred taboos during childbirth, whereas Iban men follow the same sacred taboos during their headhunting attacks. Similar rituals were observed by women in the intricate preparation in which parts of bundles of unwoven fibers are first dyed to create aesthetic shadings of colors when the fibers are woven (Gittinger 1979:218–219).

(46.) Hanson and Hanson 1983: 88–94.

(47.) T. W. Gudgeon describes the “truly great Ngatiporpu chieftainess, Hine Matiora” who ruled over hundreds of people and was known for her “beauty and wisdom” (1885:53). J. L. Nicholas 1817,2:111) in an early account reports that women in the New Zealand Northland were permitted to speak on the marae, a council meeting place, as were women among East Coast tribes. Today, women are forbidden to speak publicly on the marae in other parts of the country (see Salmond 1975: 149–152).

(48.) Heuer 1972:37. See also Best 1924b, 2:451.

(49.) S. Mead, personal communication.

(50.) Shortland 1882:29.

(51.) Best 1924a:158; Smith 1910: 221.

(52.) Hanson and Hanson 1983:88-94; Weiner a 1985:221-223.

(53.) Best a 1924: l0.

(54.) Shortland 1882:29.

(55.) Colenso 1868:355; Best 1905/1906:21. The stone used for chiefly weapons and ornaments is often identified as jade (see Watt 1986:157). I use nephrite throughout the text because, usually, the most valued taonga were made from this material.

(56.) According to Shortland 1851:37), the best quality stone used to cut the umbilical cord was called Kahurangi, the cloak of heaven.

(57.) See Best 1914, 1929a, 1929b. The ritual components differed from one geographical place to another, but the general ideologies were similar.

(58.) Best writes, “when presenting a cloak to a person, it would be laid outspread … so that the upper pan, the collar, would be next to him. When gifts were made in a house … a garment was deposited so that the neck [i.e., the collar] faced the window,” which was a sacred pan of the house (1929b:35). Whiri is the Maori word for collar and the ancient term for plaiting mats (Best b 1898:652).

(p.168) (59.) Best a 1929:248.

(60.) See the chants discussed in Best a 1929:250; also see S. Mead 1969:169; Taylor [1855] 1870. The gender differentiation between women and weaving and men and warfare.is significant since both activities are tapu, but Maori women were not excluded from engaging in warfare.

(61.) Best a 1929:250.

(62.) Although Best made no mention of the bestowal of hau in the above discussion, in another publication he noted that in this ceremony the infant is endowed with “life, vigor … and the hau-oro, i.e., the hau of life or living hau” (1900/1901:93). See also Taylor [1855] 1870:76.

(63.) Gathercole 1978, pointing out the difficulty in relying completely on Best's work, referred to this early description by W. E. Gudgeon 1905.

(64.) W. E. Gudgeon 1905:127.

(65.) Tregear 1904:387. Best (1905/1906: 165) describes a similar ritual among the Tuhoe in which the spirit of the deceased is believed to be sent on its way with flax about the mouth.

(66.) Best 1901:88.

(67.) Buck 1950:161.

(68.) Buck 1924.

(69.) Davidson 1984:74, 83–84; Golson 1959; Simmons 1968.

(70.) Of importance at this time were ornaments made from hwnan bones, moa bones, whale ivory, and whale teeth.

(71.) Bellwood 1979:388. See Davidson 1984:83-84 for another description of human bones made into pendants.

(72.) Best b 1924, 2:54.

(73.) Polack 1838, 2:72.

(74.) Best 1914:160.

(75.) Palmer 1946:270.

(76.) Best b 1929, 2:55. The Hawaiian example in which chiefs worried about securing the highest secrecy for the burial of their bones in order to prevent rivals from making them into fishhooks addresses the same issue.

(77.) Firth [1929], 1959:389.

(78.) Taylor [1855] 1870:99-100.

(79.) Best b 1924:174. There is a similar connection here with the naming rituals in relation to the sacred window space and the sacred collars of cloaks.

(80.) S. Mead 1969:175.

(81.) Best 1912:175.

(82.) See Angas 1847, 1:335; Best1903:62, 1912:215-216, 1924b:115, 1959:314-315; Firth [1929], 1959:354, n. 1; H. W. Williams[1844]. [1844], 1975: 99; Yate 1835:151, for examples. Although each tribe had its own origin stories and genealogies of its most sacred taonga, what all taonga had in common “was their ability to act as a focus for ancestral power and talk” (Salmond 1984:118).

(83.) According to T. E. Donne([1859], 1927:202), the parietal bone as well as whalebone were fashioned into hei-tiki neck pendants and “such a memento would be very much revered, and both the chief, whose head provided the (p.169) bone, and the wearer of the tiki would be honoured.” Robin Watt 1986:158), however, dismisses the existing museum specimens as forgeries and questions whether the Maori did indeed have a tradition of fashioning hei-tiki from hwnan parietal bones.

(84.) In fact, the many other objects carved from bones suggest that the hei-tiki may represent a transition from bone ornaments to nephrite weapons, as such weapons became prominent with expanding political factions. Donne ([1859] 1927:198–201) suggested that although the bones of the deceased were finally interred, the hei-tiki remained to circulate among the relatives of the deceased. The hei-tiki, he noted, “acquire some of the personality, actual identity, or spirit, of their owners, and thus … [they] become a virtual part of their living existence” (p, 198). Yate 1835:152) described the manner in which a hei-tiki would be wept and sung over in remembrance of the person to whom the ornament had once belonged.

(85.) S. Mead 1984:223.

(86.) Firth [1929], 1959:389, n. 3. In fact, the relation between Maori cloaks and land is clear in an example about the burial of the umbilical cord. When a child was born, the umbilical cord was buried on the land to which the child had rights and the cord was wrapped in a piece of “old garment”-a woven cloak (Colenso 1868:362).

(87.) Payments to religious experts for training others were also made in cloaks and nephrite possessions (Best1914:156, 1924b:4).

(88.) Cruise in 1823 reported that a family wept over the cloak of their son as though it were the corpse (cited in S. Mead 1969:176). Tregear 1904:392) noted: “After the body was buried these mats [cloaks] were displayed and traditions connected with them were expounded by the elders.” See also Buck 1950:420.

(89.) See, e.g., Angas 1847, 2:70; Buck 1950:420; Polack 1838, 2:72; Tregear 1904:390-391. For a time, Westernmade blankets replaced cloaks in these exchanges when Europeans and Americans engaged in a brisk flax trade, paying the Maori in guns and blankets (see K. Sinclair 1961:25-29). The Maori, anxious for both items, vigorously engaged in cash cropping until the British found that the flax was not strong enough for their needs. Firth cites several mid-nineteenth- century reports of exchanges where, in one case, “roast pigs, baskets [of] potatoes, and dried fish piled up, with [a] row of blankets intended as presents to friends exceeded a mile in length” and in another event, there were Witney blankets “nearly 400 yds. long … and 1,000 more besides as presents” ([1929] 1959:329). Yet with these changes, the importance of taonga as inalienable possessions did not die out.

(90.) Geary 1986:179.

(91.) The New York Times of October 14, 1988, reported that the shroud of Turin still was thought to be significant, “helping believers honor the holy person.”

(92.) For the Iban, no man's honor was recognized until he had taken the head of an enemy; no woman was granted esteem until she wove a beautiful ikat cloth, whose designs had mythic origins. The laying out of the warps for (p.170) the loom was called the “warpath of women' and the heads of men's victims had to be wrapped in these sacred textiles before they could be stored in ceremonial houses (Gittinger 1979:218–219).

(93.) Firth [1929], 1959:355.

(94.) S. Mead, personal communication.

(95.) If a chief wanted to make a place sacred, he took a thread from his cloak and tied it to a pole in the ground (Taylor [1855], 1870:56). Palmer 1946: 270) notes that during the Hone Heke wars, the halting place of the army was decided upon when a leader deposited his cloak at the spot: “The mana of the recognized cloak was sufficient to halt the straggling column without a word or command.”

(96.) Taylor [1855], 1870:56–58; S. P. Smith 1910:289. Best noted that if a well-born member of one tribe marries someone from another tribe, “he or she will act as a 'cord' [flax thread] to draw that tribe to our assistance in war” (1914:159).

(97.) For example, men were known to kill others just to obtain a particularly fine and well-known cloak(S. P. Smith 1910:193–194). In one account, the head of a chief could be returned to his clan only by the payment of a nephrite weapon, a cloak, or land (Best 1912:179).

(98.) Donne 1927[1859]:189–190.

(99.) S. Mead 1969:176; see also Best 1912:216.

(100.) Tregear 1904:393; see also S. Mead 1969:175.

(101.) Best 1912:216.

(102.) Trade in cloaks was as extensive as trade in nephrite adzes or traffic in bones (Polack 1838, 1:39; see also Best 1912:314; Colenso 1868:345–355; McNab 1908:375-376; Shortland 1851:36–37).

(103.) Metge 1976:260.

(104.) Quoted and translated by Salmond (1984:119). Salmond describes taonga as fixed points in the tribal network of names, histories, and relationships. They belonged to particular ancestors, are passed down particular descent lines, held their own stories, and were exchanged on certain memorable occasions. “Taonga captured history and showed it to the living, and they echoed patterns of the past from first creation to the present” (ibid.: 118).

(105.) Angas (1847, 1:319), for example, described a feast in which the piles of food and gifts were over a mile long. Also see the list of such nineteenth-century exchanges in Firth ([1929], 1959:328–329).

(106.) Salmond 1975:2) writes that today the traditional territories that were controlled by the descent groups are largely symbolic since the land was sold or confiscated. Only the marae still exists as inalienable property as one man said, without the marae, “We are nothing.”

(107.) S. Mead 1984:223. Mead also notes that sacred taonga adzes were set into carved handles. When a chief of the tribe died, the new handle was made and lashed to the blade: “Thus a new ariki [chief] was visibly proclaimed. During his lifetime it was the insignia of his rank; on his death the handle would be cut off and placed with his body” (ibid., 184).

(108.) Mauss [1925], 1990:91, n. 32.

(109.) S. Mead 1984:192.