Practice of adoption in Aotearoa before the 1881 Adoption of Children Act


  • Erica Newman Māori descent, Iwi unknown. University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand



Adoption, wh?ngai, kinship, M?ori, European


INTRODUCTION: With the arrival of Europeans in Aotearoa New Zealand came a familial kinship structure and ideas of caring and nurturing children different from that of indigenous Māori society. Europeans brought with them a practice of adoption, a concept that differed from the indigenous kinship practice of whāngai. This led to misunderstandings between the two cultures about care arrangements, particularly when a Māori child was left with a European couple. Even the reasons why Māori engaged in this type of arrangement was often not fully understood by Europeans. For Māori, these arrangements were usually temporary, while Europeans considered them to be permanent. Hence, we have the beginning of the challenges that contributed to the creation of the 1881 Adoption of Infants Act, a first within the British Empire.

APPROACH: This article begins with a description of the Māori practice of whāngai and the European practice of adoption preceding the 1881 act, highlighting the key differences between each—the most significant difference being the European idea of permanent and the Māori idea of temporary care arrangements.


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How to Cite

Newman, E. (2020). Practice of adoption in Aotearoa before the 1881 Adoption of Children Act. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 32(3), 45–53.



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