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The Maori Race

Former Inhabitants

Former Inhabitants.

For a long time Europeans believed that the Maoris were aborigines in New Zealand, or that if they were immigrants they found an empty land into which to enter and take possession. Late research and enquiry, however, make it appear in the highest degree probable that the country was occupied by human beings before the invasion of the Maoris from Polynesia about 600 years ago. To what race page 561 these people belonged it is impossible to say with the information at present obtainable. They may have been black fellows like the Australians or Melanesians, or Negritos similar to the aboriginal inhabitants of the Malay islands, the Alfueros. Or they may have been prior migrations of the Maoris themselves before the great immigration (heke) from Hawaiki. As other hypotheses we may mention that some suppose the Moriori of the Chatham Islands to be the elder branch of the race and to have been in possession of the islands (or a part of them) before the Maoris came, and that the Maoris drove them out as a remnant to those lonely eastern islets. Again, as an inference from fairy legends a white race whose blood blended into that of the Urewera tribe may be supposed to have had a lien by prior occupation. An ancient legend (that of Kupe) states that there were no inhabitants of any kind found by the first Maori explorer, but that may mean that none were seen or noticed in a particular locality. North Island traditions and songs allude to “the people of the land” (tangata whenua), a race sometimes spoken of as Toi, or Kohikohi, or Upoko-toea. Toi was, however, the chief of the Urewera tribe, the people of which recount that in his time the canoes from Hawaiki came to land and brought with them the sweet-potato (kumara), the inhabitants before that period having no knowledge of the tuber, but subsisting on roots, berries, birds, fish, etc.

This legend about “Toi the Tree-Eater” (Toi-kai-rakau), so named from his being chief page 562 of a people feeding upon roots of Cabbage-tree palm (ti) upon fern-root, etc., is corroborated by the traditions of the descendants of the canoe-immigrants themselves. In both the Ngaitahu and Ngati-Porou stories of the migration Kahukura brought the kumara to Toi and a people who knew not the famous plant. There is, however, a variant tradition that the kumara-bearing canoe arrived in the days of Tama-ki-Hikurangi, fifth in descent from Toi.

Against the authenticity of the legend, however, we have to place the remarkable fact that in Rarotonga Island “the Great Road of Toi” (Te Ara Nui a Toi) extends all round the island. It is about 22 miles long, paved for three-quarters of its length with lava and coral. The knowledge of who Toi was is lost, but it is curious that his followers were known as “the people of the land” (tangata enua,) just as the original inhabitants of New Zealand were known as “the people of the land” (tangata whenua) in the identical native words. It would be a most remarkable coincidence if there was no connection between the Rarotongan and New Zealand legends on this subject. It throws, however, strong doubt upon the story as an incident of New Zealand history, and has the appearance of a legend brought from afar and localised.

The Maoris used to pay great respect to the bones of their dead, yet here and there may be found among sandhills, etc., human remains uncovered by the wind, and of these no tradition remains, as there would certainly be if the relics were those of ancestors. The page 563 natives say, “These are the bones of strangers.” So also mortuary-caves are found concerning the contents of which the Maoris make the same remark, and regard them with indifference. In the legend describing the arrival of the “Tokomaru” canoe it is related that when this vessel arrived at the mouth of the Waitara river (near the present town of New Plymouth) the immigrants “found a strange people living, the ancient inhabitants of this island” (Ko nga tangata whenua ake o tenei motu). When the “Takitumu,” another canoe of the Great Migration, arrived, two of the chiefs explored the whole country near the landing place, and one of them, Kahungunu, took to wife Ruatai, the daughter of Wharepatari, and the two afterwards visited the chief Tarinuku on the Whanganui river. The son of Kahungunu destroyed the tribes Awa-nui-a-rangi and Whatumamoa, and his people intermarried with them. Hence the legend says, “In this way we became amalgamated with that people in the second generation after the arrival of Takitumu from Hawaiki.” Another legend speaking of this period (that is not many years after the landing of a few hundred men scattered all over the island) relates the attack of Maungakahia Pa by the tribe called Pane-nehu and alludes to the besiegers as “the innumerable host” (nga manotini o te ope). Another point in the legend is that the newcomers were already dwelling in a strongly-fortified settlement, an unnecessary precaution if the country had been uninhabited, or with a weak and sparse population. When the “Arawa” canoe arrived, the great priest page 564 Ngatoro-i-rangi went exploring, and, by way of Tarawera river, arrived near Mt. Ruawahia, there he found a certain man dwelling, whose name was Tama-o-hoi. Ngatoro said to him, “At what time did you arrive here?” Within him the heart of Tama-o-hoi was full of anger—not a word did he say in reply. Ngatoro at once divined that the other was trying to bewitch him. So he said, “I am well aware that you are trying to kill me and my spirit (hau), but my spirit will not succumb to your incantations. You are of the tribe of Earth. I am of the descendants of Heaven.” Then the goblin (tupua) retreated backwards, plying his sorcery and repeating his incantations as he went. Thus Ngatoro learnt the words of the incantations and spells (and was able consequently to counteract them); he called out, “Thou shalt die by my hand immediately; the power is mine that rests on all the people of my side.” The man was alarmed at this, for he recognised the truth that great power rested with Ngatoro, so he disappeared in the ground. It is worth notice in this curious story that the same power of magic which in European folk-lore is always credited to the vanquished and inferior races, and which they inherited on turning into elves and gnomes, is allotted here to this “child of the land” or “son of the soil” who also “disappeared into the ground” as our “good people” passed into their subterranean palaces in the fairy hill.

Many traditions ascribe the art of net-making to the fairies and relate that the Maoris learnt it from them. Kahakura is said page 565 by stratagem to have beguiled the fairies (pa-tupaearehe) into leaving their nets behind. The natives at Hokianga were taught similarly by the Parau, a mountain tribe, who used to come down to the shore at night to fish. The fairies (turehu) on the East Coast, Bay of Plenty, were tricked out of their nets by Titipa, who used the same stratagem as Kahukura. Weaving and wood-carving were taught to Rua, an old Maori ancestor, by the Wood fairies (Hakuturi). Whether these fairies who taught useful arts imparted the knowledge in New Zealand, or whether the legends relate to some infinitely distant date, and some other land, must be left an open question.

Even more ancient traditions than those relating to the Great Migration note that there were inhabitants when the explorers came. Nukutawhiti and Rua-nui, of the Mamari canoe, intermarried with the original people of the land. “The man who owned this land originally was Ngu, who lived at Muriwhenua, and from him came the Karitehe or Turehu,” i.e., the fairies. Nukutawhiti was the son of Po, who settled near the North Cape, and it is related in the account of his coming that the tribes dwelling at Kaitaia at that time were “the people of Kui.” It was at Kaitaia that Puhi was born, from whom the great Ngapuhi tribe is descended. There are very slight references to the appearance of these “people of the land” in the traditions, but it is mentioned that the people of Toi were small and differed from the Maoris in other respects. They must have been a much less warlike page 566 people or they would never have allowed their tiny handfuls of visitors to settle and annex the country. One of the tribes, however, is spoken of as being tall, active and warlike, viz, Te Rangihouhiri. The “people of the land” had fortifications, and very extensive some of these must have been. They did not practise cannibalism nor offer human sacrifices. They are said to have been exceedingly fond of pet birds. The Maoris, generally, do not believe the tangata whenua to be a prior migration of their own race. The gods Haere, the rainbow gods, are considered to have been deities of these old and now almost forgotten “children of the soil,” (Kahukura or Uenuku was the Maori rainbow god), nor did the Maoris acknowledge Oho as a deity. Whether the “people of the land” (tangata whenua) were actually aborigines (He iwi tupu ake) is still uncertain.

Legends are current in regard to canoes other than those of the Great Migration, in which mention is made of New Zealand as an inhabited land. The people in the Pangatoru canoe set out from Hawaiki, but attempting to land here “the original inhabitants of the country” drove them off by force and compelled them to return to their starting place.

When Kahukura came he found the people of Toi here; but in a similar legend he, under another name, that of Rongo-i-tua, calls the inhabitants the Kahui Tipua or “Ogre Band.” Hotunui, the chief of the Tainui canoe, on landing planted kumara from the seed brought with him. A little while afterwards, on account page 567 of a quarrel with his father-in-law, he and his wife wandered towards Hauraki (the Thames district) with only a few followers. There he found a tribe in occupation called Uri-o-Pou, and to these people Hotunui and his little party became vassals (rahi) and by them was miserably oppressed, an unusual record, as generally the newcomers assumed superiority. Generally the Maoris are proud of descent from the men of the Great Migration, and try to count back their lineage to some chief of the Tainui, Aotea and other celebrated canoes. Lately, however, there have been found men who “have no canoe,” and they are almost without doubt the descendants of the ancient tribes.

Numberless are the references that could be given to these former inhabitants, but they would only weary the general reader. Colonel Gudgeon has searched out the names of many tribes, Ngaitai, Ngatihuarere, Tukuhea, Nga-marama, and many others, which do not claim descent from the canoes of the Maori immigration. Judge Wilson gives us other names of tribes, viz, Ngaoko, Ruawaipu, Whatumamoa, Te Tauira, etc., men who claim to be descended from Maui, and not from the Hawaiki Maoris. Mr. Elsdon Best describes others1 such as “the Multitude of the Marangaranga” (Te Tini o te Marangaranga), who fell by thousands before the invader at the great battle of Tarewa-kahawai. He also speaks of Te Tini-o-awa, Te Makahua, Te Kawerau, Kotore-o-Hua, and other branches of the same race. The descendants of the page 568 aboriginal tribes are often to be found among the Urewera, the fine-featured, “fair-haired people” (Urukekehu) who are so noticeable among the mountaineers of the Tuhoe district.

It is, however, almost impossible to extract the grains of truth from the legendary chaff, so discrepant are the stories gleaned from different tribes. One account discredits entirely the tradition of Toi being alive when the canoes of the Migration from Hawaiki (the great heke) arrived, but asserts that on the people of the “Mataatua” canoe landing, they did so in the time of Tama-Ki-Hikurangi, fifth in descent from Toi. It was his daughter, Te Kurawhaka-ata, who received Taukata and his brother Hoake when they arrived with the kumara in the canoe “Nga Tai a Kupe.” Others say that the first canoe to reach New Zealand was “Te Aratauwhaiti,” and on board were Tiwakawaka and Papa tiri rau mae ewa. These latter found no inhabitants. From Tiwakawaka to Toi there were twelve generations.

I have hitherto referred almost entirely to North Island legends of the people of this country. The South Island traditions are fewer (as the Maoris in the South Island are few indeed) but they are exceedingly curious. They relate that when the land was fished up from the abyss of ocean by Maui he gave it in charge to Kui, from whom descended a tribe whose people grew numerous and were called Ngati-kui. Then came a race from over seas named Tutu-mai-ao who slew and intermarried with the remainder of the resident tribe. page 569 Gradually the people of Kui were exterminated or assimilated and then Kui went down and lived beneath the surface of the ground (that is, became gnomes or elves). Afterwards came another immigrant race, the Turehu, from the other side of the ocean, and overwhelmed the Tutu-mai-ao in their turn, these latter being exterminated. Then arrived the Maori, who became the “conquering tribe” (iwi-toa) and who have been here for 46 generations. This is one legend, and it is noteworthy that these people of Kui are also above spoken of as those that were dwelling at Kaitaia, near Bay of Islands, when Nukutawhiti landed there. The 46 generations, too, far antedate the genealogical tables of those Maoris who count back only to the Great Migration. The Turehu mentioned are fairies, and their name has passed into a word of common use as “indistinctly seen.”

The other southern legend is that the land was formerly inhabited by “the Ogre Band” (kahui tipua), who were giants stepping from mountain-range to range, transforming themselves into different shapes, able to swallow rivers; in fact magicians of mythic size. They hunted down the game with two-headed dogs. These goblins (tipua) were succeeded by a people called Te Rapuwai, who spread themselves all over the South Island, and whose kitchen-middens and heaps of shell-fish refuse are to be found all over the South Island. Then came the Waitaha, of whom is spoken the proverb, “Waitaha, swarming like ants,” on account of their multitude. These occupied page 570 the country for a long time in peace and prosperity till the invasion of the Ngati-Mamoe, probably from the North Island, who destroyed the Waitaha ruthlessly, and were in their turn almost exterminated by the Ngai-tahu, also from the north. The ancient pa known as Nga-toko-ono (between Fishermen's Bay and Paua Bay) appears to be centuries old, and the Ngaitahu says that when they came it looked as it does now and only the remains of earth-works marked the spot. After this era, the natives seem to have been at continual war among themselves, and by the time of the European settlement only a handful of Maoris were left in the South Island, from Nelson to the Bluff.

North Island Maori scholars generally give between 500 and 600 years as about the time when the canoes of the Great Migration came to New Zealand. This is arrived at by comparing the innumerable genealogies of chiefs and their concurrence in counting a nearly equal number of generations by many lines of descent. It is certain, however, that a very large population once inhabited New Zealand, a population that could certainly not have been produced in five centuries from the time of the landing of a very few men in canoes and still fewer women; moreover, a people continually engaged in deadly fight and whose numbers must have been decimated every few years at least in the fratricidal strife. The vast fortifications would require the presence of thousands of warriors to defend. And if thousands to defend, how many to construct? page 571 We must consider what the erection of a large pa involved. First, the planting of wide spaces with food necessary to sustain such a multitude of workers; then the excavating of deep ditches and often cuttings through solid hills to remove spurs of a ridge or other source of weakness. With endless ceremonial, heavy timbers and huge trees had to be felled and trimmed, hauled and pulled from the forest and taken up the most steep and difficult places to be set up in hundreds and thousands for wall within wall of palisades, then these to be carved and ornamented. Afterwards would come a similar process in regard to the material for the houses, the timber and thatching materials, etc., etc. Allow at least two centuries for desertion, for in places trees two centuries old are growing on the earth-works and in the ditches where they never would have been allowed to stand when the pa was occupied. The number of the inhabitants of the fort can be calculated in another manner, viz, by the closely packed fireplaces covering acres of ground and attesting the presence of multitudes. So too the hills and mounds of shell-fish refuse tell their own story. Large pits by hundreds, for storing kumara, are found on dry hills, and sometimes great systems of ditches and drains have existed for the cultivation of inferior land, long uninhabited but still with the works traceable. Out of one of these kumara pits one observer noticed a large totara tree growing, and out of another a kauri pine 120 feet high. From one spot the eye can count forty (once-) walled pa between the observer and the circle of the page 572 horizon. If then we allow for two centuries of abandonment, and two centuries at least of occupation, there is not the time left between the epoch of the landing of the canoes (as given in genealogies) and the construction of these forts to permit the breeding of the hosts of people necessary for the work. Only a large population already resident, and with which the Hawaiki immigrants amalgamated, can account for the existence of settlement so close and far-reaching

“Wild men” or “men of the woods” (mohoao, maero, maeroero, or Te-aitanga-a-Hine-mate-roa) disturbed the peace of the Maoris and were bogies not for babies only. I have often heard the mohoao spoken of by the natives and described as a very tall, horrible looking man, having long yellow hair, and with teeth like down-bent tusks at the corners of the mouth. The Coromandel Peninsula (especially Moehau) was much haunted by them, as well as by other supernatural creatures. The night-cry “makona!” supposed to be given by the mohoao has thrilled many a stout heart with its fancied sound. The maero was a wild man of the woods, strong, fierce, cunning, apt to carry off women and children. His body was covered with long coarse hair flowing from his head and back to his heels. The Nuku-maitore fairies lived in the trees. Fairy men carried off Maori women; Maori men married fairy women. These stories seem to point to an immigrant race. If the Maoris were autochthonous there was nothing in a New Zealand forest to originate such fancies. The page 573 largest wild quadruped was a rat or lizard; the dog was domesticated. On the other hand, it can be well understood that if the Maoris were immigrants, the “wild men,” goblins, ogres, fairies, etc., were probably the imaginative growth engendered through generations of struggle against broken tribes who, in dark recesses of the forest, in deep glens and mountain passes, made themselves objects of dread to the scattered conquerors. These hairy wild creatures of the woods, tree-dwellers, etc., who carried off women and children, may have been memories of the orang-outan or other great apes, and these old stories been brought from afar, just as memories of other creatures foreign to New Zealand were brought, with even their unforgotten names. This latter hypothesis, however, would not account for the ancient fortification or other signs of long occupation by man, and it is highly possible that Maori ogres and fairies were fanciful recollections of antecedent races. There certainly once existed a people in New Zealand whose chipped flint-flake knives are found in or alongside earth-ovens containing burnt and gnawed bones of the Dinornis. It is probably this people which, by intermarriage with the Maoris from Hawaiki, gave the latter that slight knowledge of the moa—faint, indistinct, uncertain—which is to be gleaned by a chance allusion in antique legend, poetry, or proverb. Believing, for weighty reasons, that the Maori people (proper) did not destroy or even see the living Moa, I think it probable that the race of men that killed and cooked the huge bird has page 574 yet to be identified. Scholarship will reveal to our descendants the true story of the human family in New Zealand, just as scholarship unravelled the cuneiform inscriptions and taught us more about the forgotten life of Chaldea than our forefathers, of two thousand years nearer the days of Babylon's empire, ever knew or dreamed of.