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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The North-west Coast of America and Polynesia

The North-west Coast of America and Polynesia

(9) But the North Pacific on its American side shows most affinities with Polynesia. In the lacework of islands and fiords that frets the coast of British Columbia there live tribes that, though Americanised in their faces, are as different in ethnology from the American Indian as in appearance from the Polynesian. The Thlinkeets in the north, the Nootkas in the south about Vancouver Island, and the Haidahs between differ somewhat from each other; but they differ still more from the Indians on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. The characteristics of the country page 52they live in have much to do with the difference; instead of broad prairies to roam and hunt over, they have but a strip of forest between the mountains and the sea, and therefore they live on the margin of it and in their canoes. There are no such intense extremes of cold and heat as to the east of the Rocky Mountains; the tropical currents that brush the western fringe of the continent raise and equalise the temperature. And the sea gives a never-failing supply of food. But this does not explain all the difference. There are differences of beliefs, social customs, folklore, and developments of art that might as well belong to dwellers on plains margined by forests and ironbound by winter. In their legends and folklore they are much more like the Ainos on the opposite Asiatic coast and the Micronesians farther south; the resemblance has been worked out by Boas.

(10) But what has struck observers is the general ethnological resemblance between these British Columbians and the Polynesians. Most of them are puzzled by it; and a few account for it on the principle of similar conditions acting similarly on the human mind. It is, in fact, generally quoted as the crucial instance to demolish the ethnological maxim that likeness of ways of life argues unity of origin or at least primitive proximity of origin.