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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Their Stone-carving is Elementary

page 198

Their Stone-carving is Elementary

(10) Taken as a whole, their carved woodwork forms a marvellous contrast to their carving in stone. This may be partly accounted for by the hardness of the greenstone, in which they usually worked, and the inefficiency of their tools. But when they turned to softer stone it was just the same: their imagination had its wings clipped, and except in the heitiki they refrained, as a rule, from all ornamentation; their meres were severely simple, and so, also, were their pendants for either the ear or the neck, even when made out of steatite. It looks as if the ancient stoneworkers, who spread out over the Pacific in early times, took but a feeble hold on life in New Zealand. And yet there are isolated specimens of finer work. Mr. Augustus Hamilton, the director of the Colonial Museum, has in his possession a piece of stonework found in New Zealand that is exquisite in its cameo-like carving. It looks like the handle of a stone dagger, with insect-like figures, probably meant for spirits returned from the under-world, delicately carved, partly on the outer curve of the handle whorls, partly on the body.

(11) And if this be taken along with the little stone bust, with half-simian face, found in the Marlborough Sounds, the tattooed faces cut on boulders near Kawhia, the black stone whorls sometimes found, and unexplained by the Maoris, the korotangi, or steatite petrel, and several carved steatite dishes, it seems to indicate a fitful effort towards the development of the art of stone-carving. The red-pottery-like bust, also found in the Marlborough Sounds, may indicate a feeble effort in the same way of an artistic pottery people from the coast of South America, where the art of making human faces and busts in pottery reached a high pitch, and there is a curious confirmation of this hint in Maori cosmogony, provided it is not tainted by the story in Genesis; in all the Maori versions of page 199the creation of man and womanand there are severalTane moulds them like a potter, generally out of red clay. It would have been much more natural for a wood-carving people to sculpture out of wood the mould into which life was to be breathed. It looks, indeed, as if the racial element that contributed the story of the creation of Tiki to Maori cosmogony had the art of making terra-cotta human figures. That man is made out of red clay, and not of earth, gives the story a native unbiblical air.