Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Aryan and Polynesian Culture looks to the Cold — North, and so does the Myth of the Discovery — of Artificial Fire

Aryan and Polynesian Culture looks to the Cold
North, and so does the Myth of the Discovery
of Artificial Fire

(18) Such sea-adventurers and sea-adventures point in each case to northern origin, to a climate that, with its rigorous winters, induced a strenuous life. And it is now generally accepted by philologists that the Aryan language was originally moulded in the north temperate, if not sub-Arctic, zone, and the Baltic Sea, with outliers to the Black Sea, is usually chosen as the starting-point of the Asiatic Aryans, the Greeks and the Latins, when they hived off southwards. The tongues of that region are too much alike ever to have been widely page 122separated or to have migrated from Asia, and both Sanskrit and Persian are too advanced, when they come on the scene, not to have travelled far and come into contact with more cultured peoples. Then the animals whose names are common to the various Indo-European languages, bear, beaver, boar, deer, dog, duck, fox, goose, lynx, mouse, otter, wolf, eagle and swan are chiefly those of the European colder zone; the trees and fish whose names are common point in the same direction, whilst the common vocabulary shows familiarity with the sea and marine animals. And the following description of the original land of the Aryans in the first chapter of the Persian sacred book, the "Vendidad," confirms the indications: "The winter months are ten, and the months of summer two, and these cold for the waters, cold for the earth, cold for the trees, and winter falls there with the worst of its plagues." It reminds us of the passage that was quoted in the sixth chapter from the Easter Island inscription. The division of the year into winter and summer, with stress laid on winter, and the reckoning of time by nights, and not by days, all of which are common to the Polynesians and the European Aryans, have a similar significance; they were not originated in the tropics, where winter is not markedly distinguished from summer, and the nights do not impress by their length. Raumati, the Maori name for summer, sometimes translated "the time of leaves," is not a distinctive name for the season in a land of evergreen forests. It is the natural epithet in a region of leafless winters.

(19) All this is doubly emphasised in the mythology of not only the Indo-Europeans, but the Polynesians. In all of them there is the record of the greatness of the revolution in life achieved by the discovery of the artificial production of fire. Prometheus, the Greek fire-bringer, snatches it from heaven in a fennel-stalk, and is sorely punished for his act. Maui, the Polynesian fire-bringer, gets the secret of making page 123fire from the goddess of artificial fire, Mahuika, the sister of The Great Lady of Darkness, and after being almost consumed in the conflagration of land and sea that she starts in consequence, he throws the seeds of fire into the kaiko-mako, the soft-wooded tree from which the Maoris take the under or grooving stick for making fire. They have another goddess of the under-world, Hine-i-Tapeka, for natural or volcanic fire. And thus the race emphasised the difference between that which they could produce and that which they found in New Zealand, and indicated that it was in no volcanic land that their ancestry first learned the secret of fire. And though they had a mechanical drill for boring holes in green-stone, they adhered to the much more primitive method of rubbing one stick along another that is held firm on the ground.

(20) Up till the time of European matches it was continued, and the under stick was held firmly by a woman, who placed her foot upon it. And this, added to the fact that the two deities of fire in the under-world are goddesses, seems to be a relic of the matriarchate, when women were dominant in the household and were the arbiters of heredity and rights. The downfall of "mother-rights" is clearly indicated by the assignment of the rule of the circles or zones of Po or the under-world to goddesses, whilst those of heaven have gods to govern and direct them. It is the mark of a discarded or conquered religion that its deities are tumbled into hell or the under-world as giants or demons. When women were the pivot of the property and rights of a race, Olympus must have consisted of goddesses. When the patriarchate took their place, their divine counterparts were relegated to the lower world.

(21) But in the mythological history of the races of Polynesia this dethronement took place before the discovery of firesticks. For Maui has to descend to the under-world to bring back the secret from the goddess, who kept it from men. In other words the matriarchate must belong to a period in the history page 124of the Polynesians, as in the history of the Caucasians, that is separated from our era by thousands, if not tens of thousands of years; for artificial fire goes back with them into early palaeolithic times. And the fire-bringing episode in the stories of Prometheus and Maui must go back almost as far. One of the most impressive facts about the antiquity of Polynesia and its isolation is this: it is the only region in the world that has preserved this primitive method of producing fire; all others have the drill of one kind or another, or as a variant the method of striking out fire. The firesticks do not belong to India or Indonesiaanother proof that the majority of the people in Polynesia cannot have come with the last or South Asiatic immigration.

(22) Nor would we be far wrong in localising the discovery of artificial fire in north temperate or sub-Arctic regions, or at least in regions frozen by the advancing ice-sheet. In the warm zones fire is not a necessity of primitive man, but a luxury. The easy-won fruits and nuts of most tropical regions would make cooking almost a superfluity. Necessity is undoubtedly the only mother of invention in primeval times; and so we may take it for granted that artificial fire, and cooking too, appeared first in the zones of the wintry north, and found their way to the tropics with migrant and probably conquering peoples. At first cooking must have been done in the open air because of the smallness of the huts, and the danger to them, if made of reeds or wood. The custom of cooking in an open shed or in the open air, still common amongst the Maoris, is a relic of this primeval stage, preserved by the women of the aborigines taken into the households. The habit was firmly established before their ancestry had advanced far enough to build large houses capable of having fires and hearths in them. The hearth as a centre of family and social life is another feature of northern origin, where the long winters make it of extreme importance. The home-life page 125that is so characteristic of the Teutonic nations, as contrasted with the Latin and southern nations, is based on this. But the myth of Prometheus shows that the Greeks migrated from the north. And, though the fire-bringing episode of Maui's life might have come from the Aryans of the Punjaub, we see in the growth of their myths and worship the lessening importance of fire in the warmer zone to which they had come; and it is more likely to have accompanied the migrants from the North Pacific. By either route the sea nurture of the infant Maui is easily explained, though in the Manahiki group it is to Tangaroa that Maui goes to discover the secret of fire; and Tangaroa is in Polynesia the fair god of the fair-haired sea-haunting people, who were driven put or absorbed by the newcomers from South Asia.