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The Hau of the Gift


Anne Salmond, Mānuka Hēnare, Amiria Salmond, Billie Jane Lythberg

Session presentation

Pacific ancestral treasures have long been strategically offered and returned in ways that activate and transform networks of relations. These gifts, animated by the hau (life force) of ancestors and of those who exchange them, circulate through space-time, binding people (and ancestors) together. If there is no adequate recognition or return, however, this leads to a loss of mana accompanied by hau mate (death, illness, misfortune).
Here, inequality is driven by unbalanced exchanges, and not just among people, but also between people and other life-forms. Individuals, families, communities and ecosystems are all adversely affected by transactions in which hau is turned aside.
We invite proposals that explore Pacific insights into equality and inequality through:
—the dynamics of exchanges, and the fate of ancestral treasures (including Pacific concepts such as hau, taonga, mana, ‘aina) in their travels through space and time
—colonial and post-colonial negotiations and arrangements

—exchanges between people and other life forms and living systems

—contemporary issues relating to Pacific languages and ancestral practices, and the distribution of power and resources

—inequality within groups, as well as between them

—challenges to relational ethics

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Genealogy of the Gift: Tracing the spirit of the gift in Māori ‘Hau’ and Haida and Coast Salish 'potlatch’ traditions

Dara Kelly (Peter B Gustavson School of Business)

Mānuka Hēnare (University of Auckland Business School)

This article revisits the extensive international discussion provoked by Marcel Mauss’ Essai sur le Don (1950, 1990: 10-18) and his response to the ‘texte capitale’ (Mauss’ phrase) of Tāmati Ranapiri. The authors discuss the notion of hau – the life force of the giver in Māori philosophy in Aotearoa New Zealand, and gifting within the context of both Coast Salish and Haida potlatch in British Columbia, Canada. As with the Māori notion of hau, the significance of gifting in potlatch tradition lies in the spiritual and economic freedom to exchange power, prestige and intent, thus accounting for the genealogy of the gift.

Part of the process of the evolution of economic unfreedom for Indigenous communities in Canada and Aotearoa-New Zealand involved the replacement of traditional economic values with those of European British economic values secured through the introduction of legislated policy. This research explores the impact of economic unfreedom from Indigenous perspectives and situates inequality within the context of barriers to Māori, Haida and Coast Salish being able to conduct balanced exchanges to uphold spiritual obligations of reciprocity. We draw links to contemporary Indigenous experiences of inequality in the Pacific that reflect ongoing intergenerational unfreedom and explore shifting experiences of new generations gaining the ability to carry on ancient traditions of gift, reciprocity and balanced exchange again.

HAU: Giving voices to the ancestors

Amber Nicholson (University of Auckland Business School)

Gift exchange within Māori society, underpinned by the notion of hau, is a favoured topic for etic research approaches within the discipline of anthropology. However, the desire to constantly redefine the concept of hau within the narrow context of gift exchange has led to a separation of the life-force from its Māori philosophical base, or moreover, a separation of Māori from the philosophy of hau. This paper attempts to provide a fulsome, culturally grounded account of hau through reinserting the silenced Māori voice into the international discussion. The voices of Māori ancestors are privileged and kept alive through the oral literature shared in the kōrero of respected Māori leaders within this paper.

“We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood.” - Teresia Teaiwa

Rachel Cocker-Hopkins (University of Auckland)

Drawing on the Indigenous-based Tā-Vā (Time-Space) theory of reality (Māhina 2010), and Tā-Vā theorists (Kaili, 2017) this paper will discuss inequity in the context of the Moana—our ocean. Within Moanan cosmogony the deity Tangaloa, whose domain is the ocean, is one of the primordial and first ancestors of Indigenous Moanan peoples. As both ancestor and deity, Tangaloa exists within a kinship network of reciprocal care and exchange with people— providing gifts vital for our physical, spiritual, socio-cultural, and environmental well-being. The connection between people and our deity Tangaloa has been severed by colonisation through missionization, and neo-liberalism. Inequity in this relationship has led to the degradation of ancestral and ecological landscapes. This long history of ethno- and ecological genocide began with European empiricism and the expansion of Western Colonies and continues to this day through one-way extractive practices which threaten Tangaloa and his descendants Moanan at every level - significantly ocean acidification and rising sea levels, amassing waste in the Pacific float, and over-fishing. This paper discusses the potential and urgency of reviving our relationship with this ancestor at a moment when the crisis of his health impacts not only the people of the Moanan region, but the world.

The Hau and Why of Trobriand Gift Exchange

Mark Mosko (Australian National University)

Two Pacific societies figure centrally in Mauss’s masterpiece, The Gift: Maori on the hau of the gift, and Trobriands as regards gift reciprocity generally. Still, there exists a profound divergence between them that remains largely unexamined. The exchange of taonga embodying hau or life-force intimately binds ancestral gods and living Maori together, but as Malinowski described for the Trobriands, ancestral baloma spirits have only limited influence on the lives of their human descendants, and vice-versa. In this paper, I describe how, contra Malinowski, indigenous-minded Trobriand persons and spirits, now as in the past, regularly engage in reciprocal sacrificial exchanges (bwekasa) which underscore the full range of classically reported practices: procreation and sexuality; kinship, clanship and affinal relations; mythology; cosmology; chiefly hierarchy and rank; and ritual performances of magic, funerals, food exchange, kula, milamala harvest festivities, sorcery and witchcraft, taboo observance, and so on. Inspired by Valeri’s (1985) analysis of kingship and sacrifice in another Polynesian society, ancient Hawai’i, this new view of Trobriand sociality implies that the obligatory principal of the hau for return, even among Maori, might well extend considerably farther than the narrow practice of taonga reciprocity, and that such distinctly human-spirit interactions underpin relations of interdependence as well as inequality.

The energetics of vā: Implications for the Hau of the gift

I'u Tuagalu (Auckland University of Technology)

The Samoan term vā literally means “a space between”(Pratt, 1893, p. 331), and in the twentieth century, it has taken on the diasporan identity-political sense of relational space, where social relations are taken as the model and reason for vā relations. This paper explores the notion of vā as it pertains to nineteenth century Samoa. It argues that vā is better understood using field theory, which holds that areas are subject to forces that “allows the explanation of instantaneous interaction between spatially separated bodies (such as magnetic attraction or repulsion) without requiring action at a distance” (Allen, 2005). It may account for magical or spiritual connection as bodies are considered in contiguous contact through the forces in operation in a given area. I contend that vā-fields are areas where animate and inanimate objects are subject to forces such as mana, tapu, and alofa. Different configurations these forces, give rise to different vā. The notion of vā-field entails the transferrance of “energy” or forces, and thus has implications for our conceptions of the Hau of the gift. Nineteenth century Samoan practices of gifiting, artefact making, and history are examined from the perspective of vā-fields.This paper extends on the work of Bennardo (2002, 2009), who applies “radiality” to enunciate a Tongan cultural model; and Lehman and Herdrich (2002), who apply the notion of “point field” to examine Samoan spatial organisation.

The role of contemporary Tupaeas—we're still alive

Michel Tuffery (Aotearoa - New Zealand)

Artist Michel Tuffery will present his practice and experiences as a contemporary Tupaea.

Distributed collections, reassembled relationships

Michelle Horwood (Eastern Institute of Technology)

This is an account of a relational assemblage of tribal community, ancestral treasures, collector and anthropology museum, its disassembly through space-time and its reassembly in the present. A network of relations was activated in 1851 when New Zealand settler-colonist Charles Smith took possession of the Māori tribal land of Ngā Paerangi ‘purchased’ by the colonial government three years earlier. Tribal leader Te Oti Takarangi, recognising the advantages of having a Pākehā (non-Māori) amongst his people, established a lifelong friendship with Smith. Out of this relationship a network of gift exchanges was transformed into an ethnographic collection now house at Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum. 150 years later, this gift network was reactivated with the rediscovery of these ancestral treasures by descendants of Te Oti and other members of Ngā Paerangi tribe. This paper describes the dynamics of these gift exchanges and some of the outcomes in the present for community and museum resulting from inequalities in the distribution of power between them.

A Pouhaki in Rotorua: A Pouhaki in Cambridge

Conal McCarthy (Victoria University of Wellington)

Amiria Salmond (University of Auckland)

Conal McCarthy and Amiria Salmond will contextualise a pouhaki now in the collection of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge; one of many Maori treasures given in 1920 to the then Prince of Wales at a huge gathering in Arawa Park, Rotorua.

Te Ao Hou: the Dominion Museum expedition to Whanganui, 1921

Billie Jane Lythberg (University of Auckland)

Anne Salmond (University of Auckland)

Anne Salmond and Billie Lythberg will present work in progress on the Te Ao Hou project, with a focus on the Dominion Museum Expedition to Whanganui in 1921.