The Fallacy of Plank Canoes
The Maori technique of dubbing canoe hulls out of solid tree trunks was basically Polynesian but was affected by the unlimited supply of large trees. The main local developments were the single hull without out-rigger, the mortice and tenon join of the bow and stern sections of the hull and the elaboration in decoration due to the high development of schools of carving. Criticism has been levelled at Maori craftsmanship for
Fig. 49. Canoe anchors.
a, normal type (Dominion Mus.); b, Tokomaru anchor (New Plymouth Mus.); c, Tainui anchor, partly submerged.
not having constructed canoe hulls with split planks and the inference has been made that the ancestors of the Maori moved out of central Polynesia before a higher culture, which included plank voyaging canoes, moved in. I am of the opinion that an exaggerated and erroneous value has been placed on the plank canoe as a criterion of culture. The use of planks for canoe construction in a stone age culture was largely a matter of necessity due to a limited supply of trees with large trunks. For small canoes, the tree trunks were large enough to provide a dug-out hull but it had to be balanced by an outrigger. When the tree trunks were not large enough to provide a complete dug-out hull, the canoe builders were forced to split planks and lash them on in tiers to increase both the depth and the beam of the hull. In atolls where the supply of small trees was very limited, the question of economy of material played a decisive part. Even for small canoes, the dubbing out of a hull would have been a criminal waste of material and so the canoe builders made the most of their limited resources by splitting the logs into planks and made even page 209
their small fishing canoes of planks. The plank canoes of the Tuamotu
Archipelago were not due to diffusion from a higher culture but to economic necessity due to limited raw material. The Samoan bonito canoe was made of thin planks for lightness and speed in keeping up with moving schools of bonito and their taumualua
, as already stated, was a late copy of the English longboat. For the other types of canoes, the Samoans used the dug-out hull. The Maori split logs for their store-houses and meeting houses because the style of building required it but to split large tree trunks for canoes when there was no economic necessity was surely too much to expect from an intelligent people.