TITLES TO LAND &c.
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TITLES TO LAND &c.
The validity of titles to land, in New Zealand, seems to be the most interesting, and the most important question proposed by the generality of persons contemplating a residence in that country.
In reply to which I would simply say, when purchases are properly made titles are as good in New Zealand as in any other part of the world; but in order to effect this, some knowledge of their language, existing laws, and customs respecting property, seems almost indispensably necessary; for many difficulties arises in treating with them on this subject, that do not occur in other transactions, principally from the circumstance of the land being generally considered the joint property of the tribe, and held as tenants in common--whereas every other discription of property is that of individuals, over which they have an entire controul, and may, individually, dispose of as they think proper, except in some instances, when they clearly perceive the advantage of their joint labour in completing any particular object when they mutually agree to share their labour and its produce. The New Zealanders claim for themselves, and re-
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cognize in others to whom they may alieniate land, a distinct right of property in the soil. Their ideas, laws, and customs on this subject are clear and defined; and as to their rights to which, tbey are particularly tenacious, whether collectively, as a tribe, or individually, as members of that tribe. The whole of New Zealand is divided by known boundaries amongst the different tribes, including every small island adjoining the coast. Any encroachment, or trespass upon which, by occupation, cutting timber, or cultivation, by one tribe on the possessions of another, without permission first having been obtained, even for temporary purposes, would be considered an unpardonable offence, and followed by an immediate demand for satisfaction; and if that were denied it would in all probability, occasion war between the parties. A near approach to the feudal system of government prevails throughout New Zealand--every tribe being perfectly independent of the other, and each tribe composed of one principal chief, several minor or subordinate chiefs, the heads of families, younger branches of families, and slaves. The principal chief seems to have very little powor over the others, except what is conceded by courtesy, as in all matters of importance, and the interests of the tribe generally, such as the disposal of land, tbey seem to be nearly equal -- even the female portion of the community claiming their right to be heard on such occasions; the principal chiefs authority being more of the nature of a casting vote in deciding any matter under decision by his advocacy, of which ever side of the question his opinion may incline. There is no real division of property amongst a tribe, except what each individual may actually occupy for his residence and cultivation, but this is a mere nominal and temporary division, as it ceases when they change their residence, or cease to cultivate that particular spot to which they claim an exclusive individual right while so occupiod, by transferring that right to some other part of their tribes possessions that is not previously so occupied, and may suit them better. It therefore clearly follows, that the idea is erroneous, though prevailing to some extext amongst strangers first arriving at New Zealand, and those who have not visited it, that any single chief has a right to sign away the birth-rights of other members of the tribe that may be equally interested in the land so sold with himself, and it is therefore very necessary that strangers who propose purchasing land at New Zealand should be very cautious in ascertaining the real proprietors, and obtaining their full consent to the purchase and conveyance from every individual interested; and in dealing with any single chief, they should be fully satisfied that the other portions of the tribe have consented to his selling some portion for his own exclusive benefit; or, if he be acting
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for those interested, that tbey fully and clearly delegated their, authority to him to do so. They claim these their common rights in landed property, from hereditary descent or conquest; the fathers rights descending to the sons, apparently in equal proportions; and every individual except the slaves, who assist or may be present participating in every new acquisition of territory by conquest, become interested in that acquisition, and whose right descends to his family until re-conquered by some other tribe.
The only fair and equitable mode of purchasing land, appears to be, to let the natives decide amongst themselves who are and who are not interested in any portions they may be willing to dispose of, by holding a general meeting on the spot, for the purpose of fairly and freely discussing and canvassing the rights of each, as there are degrees of interest among them, according to their own rank, or that of those from whom they inherit it, or their standing in the tribe at the time it was acquired by conquest. Their great selfishness creates such an eagerness to participate in the price to be paid, that at first every one puts in a claim, until it is either reduced to its proper proportion, or from some account or another, disallowed by the rest. On these occasions some difficulty frequently arises in tracing events that confer or disallow interest in the total absence of any written language having hitherto existed amongst them, and of course are confined to the recollections of the present generations, and the oral history of their forefathers, handed down to them, in which they frequently display wonderfully retentive memories, and one generally well-instructed. When it has been decided by general consent, who are the parties entitled to the price-- the extent, boundaries, and amount, either in goods or money, generally the former, with a portion of the latter, is then agreed upon between the buyer and the sellers, and the equitable distribution of it is made by themselves, and every party that has been allowed to have any claim, ought to sign the conveyance and the purport of doing so fully explained to them, in order to secure a good title, after which such a bargain will be respected by them, and I know of no instance where purchases have been thus fairly, and openly made, as regards all the parties, that they have ever attempted to repossess themselves of the property, and in proof of which the purchases of the original New Zealand Company, made many years ago, are still respected by the natives, although they complain, and I think justly, that the land has not been occupied or made any use of, which they seem to have expected when they sold it, and which they expect from all parties to whom they alienate their lands, as the settling of Europeans amongst them seems to be a principal inducement to making
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these sales, and if ever the natives are dissatisfied with their former sales, it will principally arise from this absenteeism of the European proprietor-- however it ought to be observed that there is no single individual in New Zealand but who is disposed to sell land, whether he has any title to it or not, if he thinks the party purchasing does not know to the contrary--his object being entirely his individual profit, and thus it has frequently occurred to many, from want of experience and due attention, that they have purchased from individuals having no real title to the land, or only from a portion of the rightful owners, and had again to pay either the real or other portion of claimants, before they could either obtain or retain quiet and peaceable possession, and which, I apprehend, will be the case in numerous instances, when titles come to be more narrowly investigated, and when they who have any just claim have not been fully satisfied, will not be backward in insisting on their full rights; but, as British law is about to be established, and the rights of the natives supported, the future purchaser of land, in New Zealand, if he takes care to secure an equitable title in the way above stated, leaves no reason to apprehend its ever being disputed.
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