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The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days


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The European residents of these isles have, as a rule, but a scant knowledge of the life of its native inhabitants, the Maori folk, as led by them in pre-European days. Inquiries for works dealing with this subject have been becoming more frequent for some time past, and the want of a small publication has been long felt. Two classes of inquirers have expressed a desire for such a booklet—the traveller and tourist, who wishes to gain some slight knowledge of the Maori and to preserve a memento of his visit, and others who wish to study native customs, beliefs, and peculiarities in a more thorough manner. By the aid of suitable illustrations, and a succinct account of native customs, industries, institutions, beliefs, and ceremonies, it is hoped that both classes of inquirers will be served in this small work.

Among existing races of the barbaric plane of culture we have probably no more interesting people to study than the Maori of New Zealand. This fact is owing to their achievements and concepts in the past. The exploits of the progenitors of the Maori, and of Polynesians in general, as deep-sea voyages, explorers, and colonizers during past centuries, form a remarkable and unique feature in their history, and in that of seafaring. An equally interesting subject is that of the mentality of the native race, together with its natural sequence, the highly interesting mythopoetic conceptions and peculiar form of religion of the people. These myths are based on personification, for which the Maori possessed a veritable genius, and, when carefully studied, they are found to be remarkably instructive. Maori religion, again, was in a very interesting stage of development in relation to the concept of a Supreme Being, the initial step taken toward monotheism, and the expressed and half-developed faith in two distinct spirit-worlds. The graded group series of gods, as suited to different mentalities, and the peculiar control of the cult of the Supreme page xiv Being, by means of which the purity of the concept was conserved, are matters of deep interest to anthropologists, and throw light on the evolution of religions. It will be seen how the ancestors of the Maori had many customs and beliefs similar to those of the Semites, yet struck out new paths for themselves in other matters, and were developing a religious system on different lines.

The long isolation of the Maori in the isles of New Zealand has been of much service to the modern ethnographer, and much enhances the value of any data here gathered by reliable collectors. In studying the activities, beliefs, and traditions of local natives, we know that there can be no question of introduction, of contact with other peoples, during several centuries past, until the arrival of Europeans made such a vast change in Maori life. In times long passed away the Maori brought to these isles many traditions, usages, arts, and industries that he has preserved, and which are also known in the isles of Polynesia. He also practised others of which we find no counterpart in Polynesia, and these are of especial interest as pointing to a possible Melanesian source.

It is admitted that a vast number of books, pamphlets, and monographs on New Zealand and its native race has been written, and some have cried halt to this ceaseless flow, on account of repetition that is apt to become wearisome. There is, however, an opening for a small work that includes the latest acquisitions in the way of Maori lore, and that gives some explanation of the various myths and ceremonies of former times, their purport and hidden meaning. This is a feature that has been consistently neglected in the past by most writers, but it is the only one that will present to readers a clear view of native life and effectually illustrate Maori mentality.

The following pages will tell what we have gathered as to the origin of the Maori, his long experience as a voyager over great oceanic areas, his discovery and settlement of New Zealand. They strive to explain his systems of cosmogony, mythology, and religion; his social usages, industries, and arts; to present a fairly complete account of the Maori as he was, albeit in a condensed form. The Maori himself will never record such data, will never preserve his own traditions; it remains for us to do it to the best of our ability.

There remains naught save to greet old-time comrades of many a rough camp, the brown-skinned folk with page xv whom I have fore-gathered for nearly five decades. By cheery camp-fires and within his primitive hut, in military camps and the tents of the fore-loopers on rough bushtrails where the swag-straps bit into aching shoulders, or marching behind the straining pack-horses, have I known the far-travelled Maori of the Many-isled Sea. Over the weakening chords of memory come remembrances of much pleasant intercourse with him in the realms of Rehua and Hine-maunga, during lone night watches, and beneath the shining sun.

The ashes of those old camp-fires are cold and lost; the hand of Maiki-nui has struck down the genial comrades of yore; they have traversed the Broad Way of Tane to the realm of Rarohenga, near unto Tai-whetuki they claim the Dawn Maid's care. The sun sinks swiftly to the bounds of night; yet a little while and the last of the learned ones will have lifted the gleaming path of Tane-te-waiora—“Ko te Po te hokia a taiao” (The spirit-world, from which none return to the upper world).

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