The Maori - Volume I
I Physical and Mental Characteristics of the Maori
I Physical and Mental Characteristics of the Maori
Polynesian characteristics—Morgan's misleading dictum as to Polynesian culture—Physical attributes of the Maori—Melanesian affinities—Maori craniology—Freedom from dental disease—The original inhabitants of New Zealand—Custom of flattening noses of infants; its probable origin—Tradition of Melanesian immigrants—Melanesian influence in New Zealand—A fair-skinned red-haired type—Albinism—Morphological data—Hair of Maori—Stamina—Bodily activity—Effect of superstition in illness—Diseases—Survival of the fit—Senses of the Maori—Disposition—Character—Treatment of the sick—Inferior form of religion an enemy to research—Maori mentality—The mythopoetic faculty—Effects of a ceaseless study of Nature—Powers of memory—Characteristics of children—Effects of communism—Remarkable neolithic navigators—Superstition—Artistic sense—Decorative art—Language—Gestures.
As members of the far-spread Polynesian race, the Maori folk of New Zealand are found on enquiry to have preserved the leading characteristics of that people. Leading features of such peculiarities are a stalwart physique and a high order of intelligence. To judge the Maori, or his brethren of northern isles, by the general state of backwardness in which they lived, by their somewhat primitive arts and artifacts, would assuredly be a misjudgment. It was here that Morgan erred when he placed the Polynesians in the lowest existing state of savagery, and indeed on the same culture plane as that of the natives of Australia. Evidence given in the following chapter will be sufficient to lift the Maori from such companionship.
The accounts preserved in oral tradition of the peculiarities of the original native folk of New Zealand, portray them as a dark-skinned folk of inferior culture. They had bushy heads of hair, flat faces, side glancing eyes, flat noses and spreading nostrils; “the nostrils seemed to be all the nose they had,” states one account. They were of spare build, and were an indolent, shiftless, chilly folk who complained of the coldness of the climate. They were found in occupation of the more northern parts of the North Island only, from Taranaki and the Bay of Plenty northward. None had settled in the South Island. If these were not a Melanesian folk, then they must have possessed strong Melanesian characteristics. A tradition among them explains that they were the descendants of the occupants of three drift canoes that had been carried from their home land by a westerly gale. All these particulars tend to support the conclusions of Dr. Scott. It may also be mentioned that a number of early voyagers and sojourners in this land mention the Melanesian element so strongly in evidence here. Another item of evidence, and withal a curious one, concerns an old native custom. Missionary Yates and other early writers have told us that the Maori mothers were in the habit of flattening the noses of their infants by means of pressure. This peculiar custom would not have originated among the purer, straight-nosed Polynesians; one can but think that it dates back to the flat-nosed aboriginal women who were taken to wife by the early Polynesian settlers on these shores.
It is quite possible that a certain amount of mixture with Melanesians has taken place here in later times. In the Bay of Plenty district a tradition has been preserved to the effect that, about four hundred years ago, a canoe made the land at Whakatane, having come from over sea. Probably it was a drift voyage, but the interesting part is that the newcomers are said to have been black men. They settled among the Awa folk at Meheu, or Omeheu, on the Rangitaiki River.
Te Rangi-haeata. a chief of the Ngati-Toa tribe and a leader in the fighting against the Europeans in the Wellington district in 1846. Illustrates mode of wearing native garments.
Among the black-haired natives of New Zealand a fair-skinned type with reddish hair of a wavy nature is extremely persistent, though it may miss a generation in a family. Such folk are not, however, numerous, though the strain is said to have come from Eastern Polynesia many generations ago. True albinism was but rarely seen here.
In stature the Maori is, as a rule, above the average of our own folk, and has a bulkier body and bigger limbs. His legs are shorter in proportion to the body than those of Europeans, and possibly this renders his favourite cross-legged mode of sitting an easy one to him; it is most irksome to us. This difference in bodily form was most noticeable when a body of five hundred native troops marched through Wellington streets when en route to the far-off battlefields of Europe. Obesity is now common among natives, but seems to have been seldom noticed by early writers. It is attributed to a much less strenuous life than that of former times, and to the universal diet of potatoes. Yet there must presumably be something in the way of predisposition to such a condition. As a rule the limbs of a native are much rounder than those of Europeans.
The true Polynesian hair is black, and waved, not straight and lank. This is common among our Maori folk, but the occurrence of frizzy and bushy heads of hair betoken the Melanesian admixture.
Harata Te Rangi-haeata (Polynesian Type). A member of the family of the famous chief of Ngati-Toa. The contrast between the old fighter and his Europeanised relative of three generations later is interesting.
One true Polynesian feature the Maori has preserved in his brown eyes. A fine, straight form of nose is seen in conjunction with comparatively thin lips, but often these features are coarse, and seem to show a Melanesian strain. As observed, his teeth are remarkable, being large, white and regular; an expert has stated that the Maori has the finest teeth of any existing race. Apparently these natives suffered from few diseases in pre-European times, but introduced epidemic complaints, such as measles, swept off many thousands of them in the early years of the 19th century. The simple life and fare, combined with highly necessary industry, would tend to keep them in robust health. The conditions of life, however, would scarcely tend to the survival of the unfit, which would assuredly be an excellent thing for the community. Apart from the toll exacted by intertribal wars the fit survivors might be termed a long-lived people; some remarkable cases of longevity have been recorded.
Owing to his mode of life the Maori possessed keen powers of sight and hearing; both of which he needed to exercise in connection with the task of gaining his daily food. Offensive odours do not appear to be so repulsive to them as they are to us, and their sense of taste is also different to ours. They ate certain foods that would repel us, on account of both smell and taste. The most revolting illustration of this was the practice of kai pirau, the eating of partially decomposed human flesh. This was by no means a common custom, but it certainly was occasionally done.
Te Araki Te Pohu. An Arawa warrior chief.
J McDonald, 1905.
In dealing with Maori mentality we touch upon an extremely interesting subject. Its most interesting aspect is that of the mythopoetic faculty that is so much in evidence in his mythology and religion. His genius for personification, his love for allegorical myths and metaphysical abstractions, are among his most interesting characteristics. In these mental activities he was not excelled by the Greeks of antiquity, and was far before the peoples of northern Europe. The powers of reflection, of introspective thought and ideality, shown in many of his conceptions, are truly remarkable, and furnish most admirable evidences as to the advantages of a study of Cultural Anthropology. For in these concepts we see myth and religion in the making, while much light is thrown upon the origin of both. They show us that a long study of natural phenomena, a close contact with the old Earth Mother, combined with the mythopoetic faculty and power of abstract thought, led the Maori to the conception of a Supreme Being of remarkable attributes. In no case of barbaric culture have we better evidence of the effect of Nature upon human mentality.
Quickness in learning is a marked native characteristic. Their initiative powers enable them to quickly learn the use of our tools, though a lack of continued application is often a prominent weakness. Native children are more amenable at school than are our own, a singular fact when we remember the lack of true home life and training of the young in native villages. Many of the weaknesses or backward phases of Maori character in civilised life are, of course, the result of the communistic life he has lived so long. On the other hand his universal hospitality is also a heritage from that mode of life, though therein it possessed not the spirit and meaning that it does to us.
Courageous daring, initiative, and self-confidence have been very prominent qualities of Polynesian sea rovers for many centuries. The local branch of the race owes its present home to those qualities, and inherited them from the hardy explorers and colonisers who settled innumerable isles from Easter Island to the far Caroline Group, from Hawaii to New Zealand.
As to courage in war, this quality cannot be viewed from the same point of view as among more highly civilised peoples. The reason of this is that superstition stepped in and claimed its own. Thus an individual, or a whole clan, might decline to take part in an engagement on account of some evil omen, and such action would be approved of. The Maori performed many acts of cruelty in war time, but magnanimous actions are also recorded in tradition. As a rule slaves taken in war were well treated, but might be slain by their owner if he wished to make a human sacrifice, or to add a much appreciated dish to a feast.page 16 page 17
As a rule a native community lived in harmony in the hamlet, but quarrels might cause a noisy and boisterous scene when some cause of dissension arose. Idlers were almost unknown, for all engaged in the industrial activities of the community.
The mentality of the Maori will receive illustration when we come to deal with his myths and religious beliefs. With regard to his artistic sense, we note that the decorative art of the Maori differs widely from that of his brethren in Polynesia. The former is essentially curvilinear, while that of Polynesia is emphatically rectilinear. The only way in which the writer can account for this startling contrast is to assume that the incoming Polynesians adopted the artistic designs of earlier inhabitants of Melanesian affinities. In seeking analogies in this line, we find them in Melanesia, e.g., in New Guinea, but not in Polynesia. This applies especially to painted designs. The graceful designs seen in certain painted house decorations of the Maori are extremely interesting as the work of an isolated barbaric folk. They show how he carried his appreciation of rhythm even into that art, and satisfied his desire for harmonious finish. Although his execution in wood carving was purposely grotesque when representing the human figure, yet the fine work on small boxes, and on implements, was remarkably neat and precise. Some of the fine work executed with stone tools is a marvellous illustration of neat workmanship. The love of decoration was highly developed, and this led to the carving of ornamental designs on many implements, notably weapons, and even on rude agricultural tools.
The language of the Maori of New Zealand is a dialect of the far-spread Polynesian tongue that is spoken over so great an area of the Pacific. Nor is that language confined to Polynesia proper, inasmuch as it is retained by many Polynesian colonies in Melanesia and Micronesia. Owing to long isolation of many of these units a number of differing dialects have come into existence, some of which have been affected by foreign tongues, such as Melanesian and Micronesian.
We have in Maori fifteen sounds to deal with, the consonants being h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, with the nasal sound
represented by ng, and the aspirated w written wh. Of these the t is a dental sound differing from the English t, the r is sounded softly, and the sound of n differs somewhat from that of ours. No two consonants ever come together, the ng and wh being, of course, improvised symbols. As to vowel sounds, a is always sounded as the a in “father,” though it may be long or short. E is pronounced as is the initial e in “enter,” never as a in late, mate, etc. I has the sound of double e, as in “asleep”; it is the i in agitate. O is pronounced as in English, and u as double o in spoon. All vowels have both long and short sounds, and a recognition of vowel quantities is extremely important when conversing with natives. The following illustration will serve to make this point clear. The word kaka has four different aspects, each having its own meaning, or meanings:—
Kākā. Name of a bird; the brown parrot.
Kăkă. Garment. 2 Fibre. 3 Ridge, etc.
Kākă. A bird, the bittern. 2 Affected by tutu poison.
Kăkā. Red hot.
It is here plainly seen that an error made in enunciating vowel lengths might have a serious effect on the meaning of a passage. Careless or dull-eared Europeans confuse the vowels e and i, thus the writer has heard a Maori-speaking English-man tell a native audience that he did not desire to see native deafness abolished, when he realy meant native usages and social rules, the two words being turi and ture.
Europeans have some difficulty in correctly pronouncing the nasal sound; it resembles the ng in ringer. The difficulty is principally apparent when the ng occurs at the beginning of a word. Inasmuch as all syllables are open, the impression gained of the tongue is one of softness. It is euphonious and possesses a copious vocabulary, when we remember that the Maori occupied the barbaric culture plane. Although terms denoting abstractions are not numerous, yet the language lends itself to the mythopoetic imagery that is so marked a characteristic of Maori mentality. It abounds in metaphorical expressions, and old narratives teem with aphorisms, similes, personifications and allegories. The Maori is a very fluent page 19 speaker, his mode of diction is easy, eloquent and pleasing. Gesture may be said to have formed an important part of his language, and assisted to no mean extent in illustration of a narrative.