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08 September 2007 @ 10:45 pm
Goblins and their attitude to property.  
This is an attempt to explain the goblin outlook on property ownership, despite my being more concerned with leprechauns. It came about elsewhere in cyberspace, got adapted a little for presentation here, and also contains insights into Pacific culture, which might come in handy for anyone planning to visit. I hope it is found coherent and, dare I say, of interest.

If you found it odd that the goblins, specifically Griphook, resented the fact that Gryffindor's sword and Aunt Muriel's tiara had not been returned to them, then consider the case of the attitude to property in the island countries of the Pacific, particularly Fiji. I happen to live in Fiji and have learnt a reasonable amount about its culture and heritage over a decade or so here. Not that much admittedly, but compare me to Bill and the goblins and you'll have the general picture.

There are many artifacts that change hands for money and later get returned to their so-called rightful owners. It happens down here quite regularly with whale's teeth, something that a good number of you might find odd, as I did before living out here for quite a few years. Basically what happens is that at one time or another, quite typically in a ceremony, a whale's tooth (or tabua in Fijian), is handed over or bought by a visitor in an untraditional manner. The traditional way of handing over tabuas is hardly worth getting into as it doesn't relate to anything in the HP series whatsoever.

A tabua would never be buried with anyone, it would either rot or it would be passed down through the generations of the original owner's family. It actually is the tooth of a whale, not some carved or manufactured item. They have a very high value for the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, and old ones are particularly highly valued.

Anyway, once a tabua is discovered in the not right hands, despite its often having been bought for cash or other exchange, the original owners get right on to getting it back. There is in the ownership of tabua no way for it to change ever, even when traditionally exchanged; even then the tabua would be considered to be only on loan until the donee died. That is the theory, the practice occasionally differs a little in that a tabua can be passed on to another donee by the first donee and so on. The ownership never changes, at least that is the understanding I have gleaned from having attended innumerable traditional ceremonies while in Fiji and seen many tabua being presented at such ceremonies.

A little would depend on to whom a tabua were sold or exchanged. The indigenous people know that they are only receiving the tabua temporarily. If it were a tourist then said tourist would not normally be informed of the fact that the owner would consider that the tabua should be returned later. There have been instances, one not so very long ago, whereby tabuas have turned up in museums in countries outside the Pacific. Six tabuas were discovered in the UK somewhere, having been bought or possibly removed many years ago. The traditional owners recognised them at once, and don't ask me how because they look much the same to me. There is a kind of rope attached to the whale's tooth and that is probably unique to the family, tribe or individual original owner is my best guess on that aspect.

Once these six tabuas were recognised as belonging to a particular clan this clan notified the museum where they had been and the same were actually returned after some diplomatic manoeuvring.

The above example of recovery of tabuas is not unusual, often a tabua will eventually be recovered by the original owners and there is certainly no question of any money that might have been paid being refunded.

Of course I recognise that this is quite different from the Gryffindor's sword matter. Gryffindor did buy it, there's little doubt of that. However, the basic analogy is a good one. Once a tabua has been sold, and they can be, the person buying has no right of transfer upon death according to the traditional or original owner. There's the way in which the goblins, in my reading, consider the item, specifically the sword, but also Aunt Muriel's tiara, to always belong to them notwithstanding who currently holds it. Perhaps a form of trust, to give it a legal construct, would be another way of considering the goblin attitude. They are effectively saying: "I'll sell it to you, but you hold it on trust for me to be returned". The problem, naturally, being that they do not make this clear to their customer, and they certainly should rather than brood over something that they have little right to brood over precisely because they have probably not made it clear when selling such items outside their race that this is their attitude. It wouldn't be too good for business either I would think if the goblins' attitude to ownership became widely known to the human wizards with whom they deal.

In its simplest terms and putting all this into a goblin perspective - and there is a recognisable difference, in that there is no explanation as to whether an artifact considered to belong to goblins by goblins belongs to an individual goblin or to a group of them or indeed even to the race of goblins - your basic goblin, let's call him Griphook, as JKR did, says that a certain item belongs to a goblin because it was made by goblins. There is no indication as to whether the goblin attitude to goblin made items has been widely made known to human wizards. If it has then there would be some culpability on the part of the human taking over the lease (from a goblin perspective) of the item in question. If not then the goblins really only have themselves to blame.

The matter of tabuas and the goblin attitude to ownership of goblin made items are quite similar, I believe you may agree. IIrc in LotR the dwarves have a similar attitude.

On the whole it seems illogical, however, the explanation above would make perfect sense to a Fijian, and, of course, to a goblin.

Whether it is right is another matter, again it would be right to a goblin. I merely offer the example of the whale's tooth as a way to see the goblin point of view in respect of ownership. At least they have the consolation of keeping some, if not most, of the goblin made items in the vaults at Gringotts even if those vaults are leased by wizards and witches. The goblins probably see it as the vaults belonging to them and also whatever's inside. Whichever witch or wizard thought of letting the goblins run Gringotts may well have had this in mind when they did so. It would appease the goblin sensibility a little, or it would in my opinion.

Goddlefrood, who was rather surprised to get an opportunity to say something about tabuas.

Note: Due to a quirk in the way Fijian was transcribed by the first Europeans to do so, tabua is pronounced tambua. It would only ever be written as tabua, however.
Current Location: Vault 1, Gringotts
Current Mood: Empathic with Goblins
Current Music: The little goblin song from Blackadder
focusf1focusf1 on September 8th, 2007 11:56 am (UTC)
Interesting. I disagreed wholeheartedly with the goblin theory of mine!mine!mine!

Firstly because even though goblins made the sword - it was purchased. Thus meaning the new owner had a legal right to it and to pass it down to his own decendants; it is not as if the goblins purchased it back. If the goblins were that jealous they could have made themselves one foc.

Secondly, they are creatures who go on about being opressed, don't take sides, therefore stay out of the good fight even though it is their rights that are being fought for. This makes them little toads. And we further see that they are just as condesceding of creatures smaller than them e.g. elves.

I think they deserve everything they got in this book, I only regret that we didn't see Griphooks face when the SoG vanished fro him! Maybe he learned treachery is punishable in terms of possession!
The Elf ½: Canon Junkieelfwreck on September 8th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
...the new owner had a legal right to it...

By whose laws? Wizard laws? Goblin laws? "Legal rights" are defined within a group; since it was acquired from goblins, they may have assumed that their laws regarding possessions would be followed.

In the cultures where certain items "belong" to their creators, they are not "purchased"--they are rented out. Within that culture, that's understood; when outsiders appear, they may not realize they're translating words that should mean "borrow" and "rent" for "buy" and "sell." (Especially if the difference between an item that's transferred permanently is described the same way as an item that's supposed to eventually return to its "true owner," with the sacredness of the item being the difference between the two categories.)

Griphook may not have even had the sword by the time it vanished; it may have been returned to its "rightful owner" in the goblin perspective. It's possible that something could be arranged with the goblin family it "belongs" to--that it's supposed to be "loaned" to whichever Gryffindor needs it at the moment (as signified by pulling it from the hat), and the rest of the time, it should reside with the goblins.

Of course, to reach that kind of agreements, wizards would have to acknowledge that theirs isn't the only culture nor the only set of laws in existence among sentient beings. They'd have to decide that they've got no moral right to demand everyone else follow their laws when dealing with them.
(no subject) - sollersuk on September 8th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - zanesfriend on September 10th, 2007 03:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sollersuk on September 11th, 2007 08:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - zanesfriend on September 12th, 2007 01:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
Sunnyskywalker: Rotfangsunnyskywalker on September 8th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is fascinating! I hadn't heard of either Fijian tabuas or the ancient Israelite land customs mentioned above, but both make a lot of sense. I am frustrated that it isn't really clear whether wizards generally know goblin beliefs about ownership (jenhime is probably right that we're not supposed to care, unfortunately - JKR took a swipe at "goblin fanatics" who believe the sword etc. still belong to the goblins in one of her interviews recently).

I've also been thinking about goblin ownership as analogous to copyright. In that version, the sword or tiara or whatever would be the "text," ownership of which isn't transferred even if a person buys an individual book. Except in this case, a physical object is considered of equal creative value as a text, and there's only one copy. Obviously, this analogy is a lot harder to make work than yours, so thanks for the info about tabuas!
Josef Djugashviligoddlefrood on September 9th, 2007 01:12 am (UTC)
Thanks to all for the responses. It was an interesting exercise, if nothing less.

I have decided that anything said by JKR outside the books should be ignored. If I get the inclination I will write up just why that is.
(no subject) - sunnyskywalker on September 9th, 2007 03:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
anne_arthur: All is wellanne_arthur on September 8th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC)
Not much to say, here, except - fascinating! And a surprisingly close analogy. Thank you for this! I also liked the comments about freehold and the Israelite land customs - I knew about these, but hadn't connected them. The whole subject suddenly seems more interesting - even if that isn't what JKR intended!
orphan_ann on September 8th, 2007 08:52 pm (UTC)
Hi, vozhd. I hadn't seen this "elsewhere in cyberspace" - I'm still catching up - so thanks for reposting here; it's very interesting. I hope you don't mind if I ask a couple of questions... first, can the owner of a tabua transfer permanent-ownership of it to someone else (on their deathbed or not)? Second, if a generations-removed donee returns a tabua to its owner, will the donee be compensated?

This is a fascinating parallel you've drawn. It seems as if the Goblins are comparable to Fijians or the Israelites (or, as I understand it, English law), i.e. premodern, whilst the wizards are, like tourists, modern. They're approaching the same problem from very different positions; and the traditional view must have something to recommend it, or it would have died out. (Can't speak for the Fijians, but the jubilee year is the capstone of an intricate and inefficient system of reorganisation, which bites more ways than one.)

I don't think this is a "soluble" problem; I don't think Rowling's given enough thought to it, because the situation as it stands implies that nobody's ever raised this issue before.* There was supposedly a Goblin rebellion in 1612 - wouldn't the theft of (dozens? hundreds?) of powerful magical artefacts have been a massive grievance? If the Goblins have been doing this for the thousand years since the wizarding nation appeared (about which you and I have our own theories) they have themselves to blame as well as the wizards. (And if the islanders are selling tabua without informing the donees that it is "only a loan", aren't they fraudulent?)

Who owns the Sword? From the Goblins' point of view, it could be anyone; from the Wizarding World's, it's Scrimgeour's to dispose of, so government property (p. 109, DH, UK ed.). Dumbledore may have it as a reward from the Wizengamot, or it may be a traditional perk of the post (does he slice his Christmas goose** with it?) - but it has a mind of its own. How does the Sword's desire to be with Gryffindors gel with its status as a Goblin-made and, therefore, supposedly Goblin-owned item? The fact that JKR came up with its Gryffophilia years before the Goblin Weapons Rights Claim suggests to me that the latter was simply bolted on. Or perhaps Griphook's is a modern, "nationalist" claim that his ancestors, and the swordsmith, would not have recognised.

A policy of openness on this score probably wouldn't hurt the Goblins too badly, by the way. Surely the multiple rents the smith/descendants could make thusly would make many times more than a single purchase; after all, how much of an item's value is predicated on heritability.

*This is the kind of thing that makes me so disappointed with how the series turned out. It's so much less interesting than I thought it would be.

**No, not McGonagall. These aren't that kind of book.

Josef Djugashviligoddlefrood on September 9th, 2007 12:48 am (UTC)
First, can the owner of a tabua transfer permanent-ownership of it to someone else (on their deathbed or not)?

If it was owned by a clan or tribe this would never come up. If it was owned by an individual then his / her relatives would get the tabua.

Second, if a generations-removed donee returns a tabua to its owner, will the donee be compensated?

Nope, not a bean.

This is the kind of thing that makes me so disappointed with how the series turned out. It's so much less interesting than I thought it would be.

I also was disappointed, as I discussed in my last essay here at the essays community. There could have been so much more and it really needn't have taken much to explain certain things that remain unexplained or inexplicable, just a sentence or two mostly.

(no subject) - orphan_ann on September 9th, 2007 10:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - goddlefrood on September 9th, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - azdak on September 9th, 2007 05:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - orphan_ann on September 9th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - goddlefrood on September 9th, 2007 10:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - orphan_ann on September 11th, 2007 03:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - azdak on September 10th, 2007 06:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sscrewdriver on September 10th, 2007 06:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - azdak on September 10th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sscrewdriver on September 12th, 2007 12:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - gildedacorn on September 10th, 2007 07:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sscrewdriver on September 12th, 2007 12:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
firefly_124firefly124 on September 9th, 2007 07:59 am (UTC)
Interesting comparison, and this, I think, is a key point:

There is no indication as to whether the goblin attitude to goblin made items has been widely made known to human wizards. If it has then there would be some culpability on the part of the human taking over the lease (from a goblin perspective) of the item in question. If not then the goblins really only have themselves to blame.

Way back in the mists of time, I'm sure there must have been instances of both sides being completely clueless that there could ever be any other interpretation of ownership than their own. By this point, it has to be at least somewhat known, going by Bill's comments about wizards not being blameless and whatever he meant about Harry knowing more from History of Magic. It's not, however, spelled out at all.

I'm still irked by the way JKR played that particular card. By mentioning this different belief at all and then having the sword miraculously reappear via the hat for Neville, she basically said, "Yes, there's different beliefs here, but wizard beliefs are more important." It would have been entirely possible to get the sword to Neville in some way that didn't communicate that, preferably some way that didn't involve Harry deciding it was ok to double-cross Griphook. As it is, I wish she'd kept Bill's speech to essentially "Watch your back."
Josef Djugashviligoddlefrood on September 9th, 2007 08:23 am (UTC)
Largely agreed, although Bill did work with goblins so has a little more knowledge of goblins than many wizards. Having said that, it is also apparent that wizards and witches probably simply don't care about other races' attitudes to property, and, by extension, neither does the author.
shiikishiiki on September 9th, 2007 12:02 pm (UTC)
Here via hogwarts_today.

I think this is really fascinating - I never would have guessed that somewhere in the world people do follow the 'goblin laws', but it really puts all that into perspective.

It does make you wonder whether JKR knew she was mirroring the Fijian system when she wrote about her goblins.
Josef Djugashviligoddlefrood on September 9th, 2007 11:22 pm (UTC)
I think it unlikely she knew much about tabuas, or anything much else of the Fijian culture. The same rule (used loosely) does not apply to the Fijian system of ownership as a whole. Land, for example, unless freehold prior to Independence, is inalienable. That means it can't be sold for either love or money.

That she may have been mirroring something like the land laws of England and Wales (and indeed Scotland) is possible. It's also possible she read LotR, and decided her goblins should be like Tolkien's dwarves in respect of their attitude to items made by goblins. Tolkien's dwarves have a similar attitude to items they made, but they too never seem to want to let other races know about that attitude.

Randomly, and in response to no one in particular, the land law of England and Wales is widely known. Besides the Royal family are not a distinct race, contrary to what some may think.
I've got freedom, I've got second sightkethlenda on September 9th, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
Excellent essay! I'm of mixed emotions about Griphook's behavior vis-a-vis goblin law in DH. On the one hand, it doesn't sound like this payment =/= ownership thing has been made common knowledge, and so in a way it's their own damn fault that wizards assume they own the things they've bought. I could be wrong, but it definitely seems like no one knows this except Bill, who works more closely with goblins than anyone else in the series.

But I also agree with comments above that one definitely gets the sense from the text that we're not supposed to care whether the goblins have a legitimate claim; we're just supposed to think "oh, those crazy goblins" and that's that. The entire scenario has the feel of something hastily "pastede on yay" in order to allow Harry to lose the sword so Neville could use it.
nimbus1944nimbus1944 on September 9th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC)
This same conflict existed in the early US, where settlers would think they had negotiated with the local tribes and bought a huge tract of land for all time, a la English propety rights. If they left parts of it unused, or left a field fallow after several years, they might find the tribes reoccupying the land. "Use it or lose it" seems to have been the rule, and the tribes felt cheated if an old unused land claim was waved at them.
People often choke on oeysters.: octavianwheresmytower on September 9th, 2007 03:55 pm (UTC)
See, to me the entire question rests on Gryffindor himself. If the spell to send the sword to whatever Gryffindor is in need of it was part of the job he commissioned the swordmaker to do, then the goblin maker must have known that rightful owners or not, they would have no control over the physical location of the sword. Thus, it would be a case of the goblins ceding control, and Griphook was misguided in trying to reclaim it, while admittedly the attitude that it belonged to goblins would still remain universal to their race.

However, if Gryffindor, unbeknownst to the goblins, added that spell to it on his own, the fault lies with him. Given Rowlings' and therefore her wizards' constant reliance on family heirlooms handed down through the generations, it seems to me that any wizard choosing to pass the sword to others via a spell rather than using more straightforward means, it implies that he knew the item in question would likely not be in his house's possession any longer. Hence, he probably did know the goblins were likely to want it back, and found a way to get around that, either not caring about goblins' views, or concluding that since he commissioned the object rather than simply purchasing it, his property laws should rule.

Which of course brings up the fact that while goblin-made artifacts cannot be purchased, only rented out like tabuas, does the same thing really apply to items that were not merely purchased, but commissioned by others? Tambuas are owned, not made, but if a visitor hired a Fijian to retrieve a tabua for him, would the retriever still own it? Or would the man who commissioned its retrieval be the rightful owner?
Sunnyskywalker: Rotfangsunnyskywalker on September 9th, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)
Good point about Gryffindor. This is what really frustrates me - JKR brings up the issue of goblins' different concept of ownership, then just has wizards get the sword back with no indication whether that's the end of the issue or what. I think we're supposed to assume that wizards are right and goblins are wrong, but it's awfully hard to do so when we don't know things like a) whether most wizards know about goblin ownership, b) whether goblins tell wizards about it when they sell their works, or c) the one you've brought up, why the sword "wants" to be with Gryffindors. A narrative slanted to encourage us to assume goblins are in the wrong with little to no evidence just feels wrong to me.
tasogare_n_hime: otonashiitasogare_n_hime on September 9th, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
I really wish we did know more about other magical beings in the HP universe.

From what we do see of goblins especially in Fantastic Beasts & Where to find them, I can see the goblins of HP purposely not telling wizards of there property laws simply to an excuse to start a war.
Griphook after all didn't explain any goblin laws he just said the sword had been stolen.

It seems to me especially after reading this that wizards and goblins should probably not be doing business together. It kind of makes me wonder if a goblin purchasing something wizard made would follow goblin law or wizard law?
Sunnyskywalker: Rotfangsunnyskywalker on September 10th, 2007 12:06 am (UTC)
I wonder, though - I mean, FB is supposedly written by a wizard, who is likely to be biased when it comes to wizard-goblin relations. And wizards have been buying from goblins for at least a millennium, so even if only humans who work directly with goblins (like Bill) find out about goblin concepts of ownership, shouldn't that information have percolated through wizarding society about nine centuries ago? There aren't that many wizards, after all. A half-dozen of them telling their friends and family ought to lead to everyone knowing pretty quickly. Wizards would almost have to be actively trying not to learn anything about goblins to still be that ignorant. (Maybe that's why Griphook didn't explain - if they still don't know after all these centuries, it probably feels pointless to explain again.)

But then, wizards still can't figure out Muggle clothing despite being surrounded by Muggles and going to school with at least a couple hundred Muggle-borns, so it does fit the general pattern.

wizards and goblins should probably not be doing business together

Yeah, they'd probably both be better off.
(no subject) - tasogare_n_hime on September 10th, 2007 12:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sunnyskywalker on September 10th, 2007 12:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - goddlefrood on September 10th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tasogare_n_hime on September 10th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - goddlefrood on September 10th, 2007 01:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
gildedacorngildedacorn on September 9th, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)
That is a very good question.

The goblins have been banking with the wizards (and for all we know, other beings -- do centaurs or giants have banks?)for long enough that I find it hard to believe that they don't know *exactly* how wizard laws work. The question is, are they using such laws to their advantage when dealing with wizards, *while expecting to be able to use their own laws to their advantage also?*

I suspect that the answer is yes. Remember Ludo Bagman. (Yes, he was a lowlife who deserved everything he got -- but I think he and Griphook shared about the same level of business ethics. "No honor among thieves.")

I also suspect that goblins will, if they can get away with it, come around to some unsuspecting descendent and tell them about goblin ownership customs, when the original purchaser had done so in good faith, and then when the descendent tells them to get lost, they start grumbling about thieving wizards. (Gryffindor probably was an example of this; he bought and paid for it, and the goblins didn't tell him about the fine print -- which, then and now, means they could charge more for it than if the purchaser knew they'd want it back when he died. I don't think he cast a charm on it, because it works for other people than his descendents, i.e. Neville.)

In short, if the goblins don't make clear from the beginning what the terms of purchase are, it is, as others have said, their own fault. But it's never made clear.

msavi: Canon Killsmsavi on September 9th, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC)
Here via hogwarts_today.

There is no indication as to whether the goblin attitude to goblin made items has been widely made known to human wizards. If it has then there would be some culpability on the part of the human taking over the lease (from a goblin perspective) of the item in question. If not then the goblins really only have themselves to blame.

I can't fault goblins any more than I can humans for this, though. From a goblin perspective, humans must have as much a screwed-up attitude toward ownership as they belive goblins have. Perhaps the idea that goblins should have to explain that humans are just "borrowing" is ridiculous to a goblin, because to a goblin, this is a self-evident fact. That is as much the natural order of things to a goblin as the I-paid-for-it-I-own-it-forever idea is to a human. Of course, a goblin who is selling an item to a human should be well aware that humans have a different idea of ownership, but then, so should the human who is purchasing said item be aware of this difference. Both parties are culpable. Only I tend to fault wizardkind more simply because of their apparent disregard for any "lesser" sentient being; one of the tenants of wizarding society that I expected to be blasted in DH only to find it bolstered in the books and in later interviews with JKR. I'm currently writing a fanfic that features goblins, in an attempt to ease the disgust I felt with this aspect of DH.
no longer used: ship timebanditssscrewdriver on September 12th, 2007 12:32 am (UTC)
Only I tend to fault wizardkind more simply because of their apparent disregard for any "lesser" sentient being;

Yes. If I was a goblin, being patronised by a 'superior' wizard, I'd sure make sure the small print was in my favour whenever I could. It's only natural.