The two overarching concepts of Māori custom affecting law and legal processes, were mana (charisma, integrity) and tapu. (sacred or forbidden). Disputes such as an assault, rape or killing involved a breach of personal tapu, whereas eloping, cheating on spouse, insults to reputation or groups of people were insults to mana. Collective disputes arose when outsiders challenged the mana of a group. The spiritual violation of the individual and the ensuing damage to the mana and tapu of the group were major reasons for disputes amongst individuals and groups.  

The re-offending of an individual on a regular basis indicated an imbalance of their tinana (body), wairua (spirit), and mauri (life force). This resulted in the inability to establish a state of “ora” (well being) and “ea” balance and in turn created an imbalance within the community. The process of dispute resolution aimed to identify the causes of the dispute or reasons for offending in order to uncover and address the source of the problem. This moved the focus away from the individual to an analysis of cause and effect.

‘Going through the process’ was seen as cathartic or therapeutic. Māori placed much value on the process as distinct from the outcome. The process was seen as an inherent good, because it empowers the parties and the community to take responsibility for the future. Allowing time and resources for a proper airing of the grievance was of itself a large part of the healing process. 

....There is no Māori word for forgiveness. The widely-used Protestant version of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ in Mäori (and the corresponding scriptural translation in Matthew 6:12) uses the term ‘muru’ to refer to the Christian idea of forgiveness, while Roman Catholic translations use words such as whakakähore (negate) or wareware (forget, be unmindful of) – in my view, a more accurate rendition. 

The word ‘muru’ means to to wipe or rub, which includes both rubbing off and smearing something on, as well as the plucking off or stripping of leaves from a branch or twig. By extension, the term included the act or institution of ritual seizure or ‘stripping’ of goods from the guilty individual or his family or community for an alleged offence. Māori cultural experts argue that forgiveness was not part of the indigenous thinking process. Once the community was back in balance, the matter was closed and forgotten i.e. “wiped out”.  

The overall aim of dispute resolution was the restoration of mana, to achieve a balance of all considerations and to achieve a consensus; it was not an adversarial process. When there had been a dispute that had affected the spirit and mauri (life force), the question was how to bring it back into balance. Regardless of what level or who was involved, there is the same fundamental principle, that of whakahoki mauri or restoring the balance. Apparent here is the notion of ‘healing’. 

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