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No. 28 (September 1959)
– 43 –

Fragmentation of Maori land becomes more and more serious as more owners die and interests are split up between their children. Already many land interests are so small that owners are ignorant of the location and description of their lands, and even of the fact that they have a right to succeed. Many potential owners of small shares do not think it worth their while to pay the fees and spend the time necessary to prosecute an application for succession. Others who have succeeded, especially the many younger people who have made their home in a place that is distant from the land, prefer to have its trifling value in cash rather than to retain their minute shares. All this adds up to a rapidly growing threat to the retention of the relatively small amount of Maori land now remaining—and much of it is poor land—by the Maori as a people. This threat can be reduced and gradually overcome if the larger owners will consolidate their shares by using the several processes of title improvement that have been provided for that purpose by succeeding Governments.

According to ancient Maori custom owners who did not occupy the land (or keep their fires burning on it—ahi-ka) would ultimately lose their ownership. The ahi-ka (burning fire) would become ahi-tere (unstable fire) after a while and would later become ahi-mataotao (cold fire or extinguished fire). This meant that some sort of balance was kept between new owners added to the title and others who lost their rights.

Rights of ownership in ancient times, took an absence of something like three generations to extinguish by this custom. In other words, the absent owner had, beyond all doubt, to have reached the “point of no return” before his fires were regarded as mataotao. Up till then his fires were ahi-tere and could again become ahi-ka if