Europeans have commented on Maori since 1642. These accounts, when examined beyond their own cultural views52, give us snapshots of how parents were socialising their children. After Abel Tasman’s confrontation in the South Island and James Cook’s travelling around the New Zealand coast, most of the earliest accounts of Maori were in the northern areas. Both Tasman and Cook were searching for prospective colonies. In 1807, John Savage added to observations. Others followed soon after. In their observations, the European methods of raising children with some form of punishment, was evident and they expressed surprise at shared parenting.

Mana of the Children

The fathers took their children everywhere with them. They went to the public assemblies, and even on their military expeditions81. Hongi Hika’s 13 year old son acquired more mana as he had shot a man in battle82. Samuel Marsden and John Nicholas, who travelled with Marsden, and Polack among others, observed that, “the sons of chiefs were often seen, at the age of four or five years, sitting among the chiefs, and paying the closest attention to what was said83.

“They also ask questions in the most numerously attended assemblies of chiefs, who answer them with an air of respect84

Joel PolackPublished in his book 'New Zealand'

These kaumatua were acknowledging that the children were under the atua, that they came from those who had gone before and were forebears of the ones to come. They knew that they were teaching the children. Here was the tuakana and teina relationship operating with tupuna matua, matua, tamariki and mokopuna. The children listened to and learned about dispute resolutions of varied issues (from perceived insults, theft, transgressions of all kinds and others).

At Paroa Bay, Nicholas and the crew were very pleased with the activity and steadiness of the two boys who had accompanied them because:

“They showed considerably more judgment in the management of the net than we could have expected from lads of so early an age; and they evinced, in other respects, a shrewd intelligence, far beyond the compass of their years85

John NicholasPublished in his book 'Narrative of a voyage'

“[Y]oung urchins, who have scarcely the power to walk,[were] steering large canoes without aid” which Polack called “heedless treatment” on the part of the parents and adults, but admitted that this “renders the children very hardy, morally and physically; so that a little native boy is half a man when a European child is first placed at school”86.

All facets of life were open to the tamariki87. They knew and accepted the  social ranking and the duties and practices that went with those. They knew the ranking of their fathers and their mothers and expected behaviours and privileges associated with those ranks. Children were treated as family members and the children all played and ate together88 and learned everything together. Some slaves were able to become chiefs89, and their skills enabled them to break out of slavery90. Samuel Marsden commented that most chiefs treated the women, children and slaves with kindness91. A kuki owned a piece of ground in independent tenure92. By the 1830’s, treatment of slaves had improved overall93 particularly where chiefs were close to missionaries94.

The person to the far right on the waka (canoe) is carrying a child on his/her back, teaching them while they are on their back.

Chazal, Antoine 1793-1854 :N[ouvel]le Zelande. Habitans et pirogue. N[umer]o 45. [Copied 1825 or 1826 from an 1824 drawing by Jules Louis LeJeune] Reference Number: C-082-098

Rautopene, chief of the Waikato tribe, and his two wives each with a child.

Image credit: http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-134603226/view

Domestic abuse was reported but not as a common practice. One of the earliest reported incidents was in Queen Charlotte Sounds, in 1773. Forster, the ship’s naturalist, wrote that a child “desired his mother to give him a piece of broiled ‘Pinguin’ and as she did not immediately comply and refused to do it, he threw a large stone at her, whereupon she beat the child, but her husband beat her unmercifully for it’95. The French in 1772, thought that the men made the women do all the heavy work but there was little casual violence96. Ill feeling amongst some wives meant that the babies may have been surrounded by negativity.


52 Smith, Decolonising Methodologies 28.
81 Nicholas Narrative of a voyage 158
82 Craik G, op cit.1850 p391
83 Elder, Samuel Marsden 175.
84 Polack New Zealand 379.
85 Nicholas, Narrative of a voyage 28.
86 Polack, New Zealand 377.
87 Polack, New Zealand 378.
88 Cruise, A Journal 42. Cruise reported slaves being sacrificial victims as a contrast to the slaves treated as family.
89 Ballara A. Warfare and Government in Ngapuhi tribal society: 1814-1839, MA Thesis, University of Auckland, 1981. 284. As cited in Henare, He Whenua Rangatira 268.
90 Evidence of Piri Teira Whirinaki Counter case No. 7, 24 November 1885, Northern Minute Book 7, p277. DB70. cited in Henare M et al, op cit. 2009. p268. Earle A, op cit. 1827. p138-9.
91 Elder, Samuel Marsden 128.
92 Nicholas, Narrative of a voyage 290.
93 Yate, William. An account of New Zealand and of the formation and progress of the Church Missionary Society’s mission in the Northern Island. London: R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1835. 121.
94 Ballara, Angela. Taua. ‘Musket Wars’, ‘land wars’ or tikanga? Warfare in Maori Society in the Early Nineteenth Century. Auckland: Penguin Books, 2003. 426, 427. Te Rauparaha killed a slave for a hakari in 1839 while in the same year, his younger kinsman, Te Hiko, was paying slaves for their work. Traditions were changing.
95 Forster J.R. op cit. 1779. p258
96 Salmond, Two Worlds 422-423.
96 Salmond, Two Worlds 422-423.
96 Laracy Hugh, ‘The French Connection’ in New Zealand Listener February 27-March 5, 2010. 22-25.
96 Laracy, The French Connection 24

The content of this web page was originally published in the Traditional Maori Parenting report published in March 2011 as commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commission (OCC). The content is republished here with their permission as copyright owners of this work.

You can download the whole report from the OCC website.