New Zealand Law Society - Te Matapunenga: A Compendium of References to the Concepts and Institutions of Maori Customary Law

Te Matapunenga: A Compendium of References to the Concepts and Institutions of Maori Customary Law

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Reviewed by Geoff Adlam

This is a beautiful book, hard bound with an attractive cover design and its well-laid out pages illustrated with colour and black and white photos and drawings. It is everything a compendium should be: a comprehensive and well-organised source of information providing access to a specialised body of knowledge.

The subject matter is terms and concepts of Māori customary law as they are recorded in traditional Māori accounts and historical records. The book is the culmination of extensive research at the University of Waikato. The three authors provide modern interpretations of the terms and concepts and put each into context with other information necessary for an understanding of its significance and meaning. English translations of the Māori language sources are provided, along with comment on any problems or issues.

There are 121 separate terms and concepts (or “Titles”). In selecting these, the authors have included material which states or suggests a normative principle of obligation, and also material which throws light on concepts or practices necessary to understand the normative principles. Selection of specific sources (“Entries”) from a range of possibilities has been driven by assessment of explanatory power and insightfulness, as well as the authority, credibility and/or public importance of the source.

Each Title is accompanied by a short explanation of its general meaning and comment on its scope. For example, “Mana kōrero” is described as “Mana in relation to speech and communication, thus authority to speak on behalf of a community or people. From mana (q.v.) and kōrero (q.v.)”.

An introductory “Entry Guide” gives a brief overview of significant elements in the sources quoted, and this is followed by the Entries in chronological order. Each Entry includes information on source and discussion of context and credibility issues.

Apart from the decisions made on which sources are included and on translation matters, the authors do not aim to decide on “true custom”. They say their intention has been to record what people who might be expected to know of the matter from training, practice, or study have claimed to be custom at various times and in various circumstances.

Interestingly while the main text uses macrons, the sources quoted do not. This may be because the smaller font size used does not lend itself to them.

The authors, Waikato University’s Te Matahauariki Research Institute, and the publisher are to be congratulated on producing such a valuable and accessible resource.

Te Matapunenga: A Compendium of References to the Concepts and Institutions of Māori Customary Law, Victoria University Press, September 2013, 978-0-864738-89-9, 551 pages, hardback, $80.00 (GST included, p&h excluded).

Geoff Adlam is Communications Manager of the New Zealand Law Society.

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