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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Land Title System

A few concluding remarks may be directed at the land title system that has evolved over the past 100-odd years and to some of its more general consequences.

In 1865 the Native Lands Act established the Native Land Court to give effect to the guarantee offered by the Crown in the Treaty of Waitangi to determine Maori title to land in accordance with custom, and otherwise to safeguard it. Judicial interpretation of this Act produced a series of interim title decisions as between tribe and tribe, for which the critical evidence was tribal tradition and genealogical descent. The principle followed in the first investigations was to determine the primacy of the claim of one set of ancestors over and against another and then to accept into the title, with or without conditions as to occupation, all persons tracing descent from these ancestors. The relative interests of the persons listed was expressed in various ways, but all was done with the ultimate purpose of evolving a working basis for partition.

Such, in brief, was the method devised to transmute a Maori title system, once defined by its own nexus of codified values, into one now valid in English common law and accessible to commerce. These preliminary investigations were litigious and complex enough: but it was not long before succession, intermarriage, and partition brought the first instalments of a process that has ended in the chaos of multiple ownership and fragmented holdings. Beyond the rare cases of single ownership, separate blocks of land came to be held by a number, either as tenants-in-common, i.e., conjointly, with the same or unequal shares, or, where individual interests had been partitioned, as tenants in severalty.

“Consolidation”, referred to earlier, was the first effective measure designed to counteract the degeneration of titles. It was sound in theory and undoubtedly served to improve Maori titles to the point where they could be used to raise development finance. Nevertheless, so long as titles can proliferate at the death of each generation of owners, the process will be never ending.

More recent devices include:

  1. “Conversion”, in which the Maori Trustee (formerly the Native Trustee) buys interests in Maori land less than £25 in value and sells them to individual Maori or to Maori incorporations.

  2. “The £10 Rule”, in which the Maori Land Court (formerly the Native Land Court) vests the whole of a deceased person's interest in any one (or more) successor to the exclusion of any other.

This is done without payment to those excluded, providing the value of any excluded interest is not more than £10.

by Ian Hugh Kawharu, M.A.(CANTAB.), B.SC.(N.Z.), B.LITT., D.PHIL.(OXON.), F.A.O. Research Fellow, University of Auckland.