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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The Ancestry of the Polynesians came to Java a — Century or two before our Era, and there — changed Rice for Breadfruit as their Staple — Food

page 100

The Ancestry of the Polynesians came to Java a
Century or two before our Era, and there
changed Rice for Breadfruit as their Staple

(4) After testing this, especially in its later series, by comparison with others, he takes it as a practical basis for the history of the Polynesian race during more than two thousand years. For he assumes twenty-five years as the average length of the generation, and this, multiplied by ninety-one, stretches from the middle of the nineteenth century to 450 b.c., a date he fixes on as the beginning of definite Polynesian history. To this earliest starting-point is attached a name that he takes as geographical, as, in fact, the name of the primal fatherland, Atia-te-varinganui, or shortly Atia, as it is put in the karakias of the Rarotongans. And these islanders in one of their traditions make vari the name of the food of the people when living in Atia. The meaning attached to this in Polynesian is earth or mud; but in Indonesia there are variants of it, pare, fare, in Malay padi and peri, and in Malagasy vari, all meaning rice. He therefore translates the full name "Great-Atia-covered-with-rice." Quoting from De Candolle's "Origin of Cultivated Plants," he shows that India is one of the primitive homes of the riceplant, and Indonesia is not, whilst Java is the home of the breadfruit. Now, in Polynesian traditions it was in Hawaiki that two new foods were discovered, and the use of vari discarded; one was the breadfruit discovered growing in the mountains by Vaitakere, the father-in-law of Tangaroa, the other ii, probably the Tahitian ifi, ihi, or chestnut, discovered by Vaitakere's wife. And neither the breadfruit nor the chestnut is a native of Polynesia.

(5) The conclusion Mr. Smith draws from this is that the ancestors of the Polynesians left India two or three centuries page 101before our era, and brought rice with them into Indonesia; there they substituted breadfruit for it as their staple food, and two or more centuries after the beginning of our era migrated eastwards into the islands of the Pacific, bringing the breadfruit with them. He conjectures that they must have come by land, through Burmah southwards into Indonesia, and there become maritime in their character. By calculations of the generations, he fixes 65 b.c. as the date when Kura-a-moo of the genealogy migrated into Avaiki-te-Varinga, which he takes to be Java, or Hawa as it would be pronounced, with iki, a common Polynesian termination, added.

(6) No one who knows ethnology and anthropology will be inclined to dispute the conclusion that the Polynesians came from the coasts of Asia, or that at least one migration, most probably the last, came from the southern shores of that continent. Nor will any one who knows the difficulty of finding out the character of prehistoric civilisation incline to undervalue what seems a real discovery, the change in Polynesian history from rice-eating to breadfruit-eating. The revolution in the staple food means migration from a subtropical to a tropical climate, from swamp lands to mountain and forest lands. It means also contact and intercourse, if not intermingling, with a new type of people and civilisation, for it is inconceivable that the traditional food of a race should be suddenly abandoned on the first discovery of a wild fruit in the forests. Only a cultivated food could take the place of a cultivated food and drive it out, and then, too, only by a long and gradual process of habituation in close converse with the race that commends it and shows the way to its use. And, lastly, the revolution means a change in the fibre and tissue and muscle of the race; the chemical constituents of rice and breadfruit are so different that the living systems supported by them must be different, too. But the derivation of an ancient geographical name is uncertain evidence, especi-page 102ally as so many names of places are accepted from aborigines by immigrants. And there are at least half a dozen countries in Southern and Eastern Asia that have grown rice and had rice-eating inhabitants from prehistoric times.